Where has that fire truck been all these years?
Published in The Register-Pajaronian
The Register-Pajaronian’s Nov. 12 story regarding the Santa Cruz County Grand Jury’s 2011 final report being online touched on the surface of what actually occurred.
Almost four years ago, on April 20, 2008, the city issued a $225,000 check to Fire Tucks Plus (a fire truck dealer in Rancho Cucamonga) for a fire truck described as in “excellent condition” to our City Council at the time.
On Nov. 30, 2010, almost three years after the city issued the check, I wrote an email to City Manager Carlos Palacios asking where the truck was located and when we could anticipate delivery. You know, thinking, “Wow, almost three years now and no fire truck?”
On Dec. 1 Chief Bisbee responded with an email. He wrote: “1. Fire Trucks Plus, Rancho Cucamonga. 2. No hard delivery date yet, but refurbishment is well under way.”
I don’t know what compelled me to call Fire Trucks Plus, other than maybe investigative instinct, but whatever the reason, I did. I spoke with owner Paul Batista. I asked Mr. Batista how long before the refurbishments were completed. Mr. Batista said the fire truck was in Pasadena and not at his facility. What? Refurbishments are not “well under way” as Bisbee stated? Nope, but Mr. Batista explained, the Pasadena Fire Department was doing a lot of work to the truck and Watsonville was going to get a great deal.
“Did you cash our $225,000 check?” I asked. Yes, he did, a few weeks after receiving it. “But, how could you sell something you didn’t own?” I asked. Basically, he said, it involved a three-way deal and gave me the cell number to the city of Pasadena Fire Battalion Chief Scott Dandridge for further explanation.
Battalion Chief Dandridge seemed to expect my call and began our conversation by saying that the city of Pasadena did not have an agreement with Watsonville to sell its KME fire truck to us. “So the truck we issued a check for still belongs to Pasadena?” I asked. “Yes,” he explained. “Fire Trucks Plus was supposed to find Pasadena a fire truck before Pasadena sold their KME fire truck to them, so then Fire Trucks Plus could sell the truck to us.”
Are you confused? So was I. So, I’m thinking, why wasn’t our City Council told it was a three-way deal and why would we issue a check for a fire truck to a dealership that didn’t own the truck? And, we still didn’t even have the title (pink slip) to the fire truck after issuing a check almost three years before? Something smelled really fishy.
Eight days after I wrote the email and started calling around, on Dec. 8, 2010, the city of Watsonville finally obtained the title of ownership (pink slip), but not delivery of the 1992 KME.
Considering that facts were tossed aside like meat at a vegan festival, I did what an elected official is supposed to do. I made a public records request from the city of Pasadena regarding the sale and transfer of the truck. Come to find out that on Dec. 14, 2009, around a year and half after we issued the $225,000 check, the Pasadena City Council was provided a report on the KME fire truck by its Public Works Department.
The report stated that the truck had “major component failures” that were due to “a direct result of the vehicle’s configuration, design, and duty cycle” and that the truck was “out of service for 37 percent of the time.” The Pasadena City Council was also advised that, “The KME cannot be resold at auction for reuse by a municipal fire department because it does not meet current NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards.” And, “It is estimated that it (the fire truck) will only bring approximately $20,000 at a public bid.”
So, the fire truck that was represented to our City Council as being in “excellent condition,” actually did not meet NFPA standards, preventing it from going into service, and valued at only $20,000 because it had major component failures? I was astounded! No, not that the fire truck that we purchased could be better described as a lemon, but that the Pasadena City Council was so well informed in comparison to our City Council, where elected officials have to resort to public records requests for information.
And, where’s the fire truck? Well, almost four years after we issued the check for it and since it was towed into town this past July the lem … I mean fire truck is still not in service. It’s in Modesto getting an electrical problem repaired. We have been told that maybe, just maybe, by the end of January the truck could go into service. Six months to fix an electrical problem?
What about the $225,000? Where did it sit for almost three years? And how much will the fire truck actually cost us? Maybe you want to pose these questions to City Council candidates when they come knocking on your door.