The fires have become more prevalent since the summer started and heatwaves began lingering across the U.S. and the globe. Dallas has not been immune. On Thursday, DFR was tackling a grass fire at 8501 Old Hickory Trail, in southern Dallas, and ended up needing help from neighboring departments in DeSoto, Duncanville, Cockrell Hill, Hutchins and Lancaster.
DFR had the numbers and the know-how. What they needed from the other departments was their equipment. More specifically, they required specialized fire engines that can fit into tighter spaces and spray water while they’re on the move.
This is called “pump and roll,” something standard firetrucks aren’t capable of. DFR has a fleet of these specialized engines, but most of them are out of service. The two that weren’t, DFR spokesperson Jason Evans says, broke down before they could help with the Old Hickory Trail fire. One stopped working at the scene of the fire and the other broke down en route. Typically, backup units would be available in case something breaks down, but DFR doesn’t have any.
Despite needing to call in the other departments for their equipment, DFR and the others were able to put out the fire in just over an hour. Jim McDade, president of the Dallas Fire Fighters Association, told the Observer, “We were out there, literally with brooms, fighting this grass fire” because they didn’t have the specialized vehicles.
Even though they had put out the fire, the job apparently wasn’t finished. Embers from the grass fire floated through the air, landing inside the rain gutters of a nearby apartment complex. The embers ignited combustibles in the gutters and caused a fire at the apartment that displaced two tenants. Given the hot and dry conditions, McDade said, the fire could have been a lot worse.
“We were out there, literally with brooms, fighting this grass fire." – Jim McDade, Dallas Fire Fighters Association
Maintaining equipment has been a struggle for DFR over the years, McDade said. He pointed out that drivers passing by the DFR repair shop, at 5000 Dolphin Road, can often see fire trucks sitting outside waiting to be repaired.
“They’re just parked out there waiting to get fixed,” he said. “That’s why we have no reserve apparatus right now.”
He said the shop just hasn’t been able to make repairs as needed. It hasn’t always been this way though. “In years past, 15 years ago when it was fully staffed, it was very well run and we kept our stuff maintained,” McDade said. “Over the years, it’s just dwindled down.”
These days, McDade said the shop is lacking mechanics, and that’s causing delays in needed repairs. Generally speaking, McDade thinks mechanics don’t get paid enough, and there aren’t enough of them. There are even fewer who know how to maintain and repair the equipment DFR works with, he said.
“This should be treated as a very specialized job and they should be compensated as such,” McDade said. But the job isn’t treated that way, and the workers aren’t paid well enough, he said. He blames the city's management.
McDade and the association put out a press release last month explaining why they thought it was time to replace City Manager T.C. Broadnax. Mayor Eric Johnson and some City Council members were also saying they wanted Broadnax to be replaced. The mayor and council have since decided to give the city manager another chance.
When that happened, McDade said he stood by what he said in his press release — that Broadnax should be replaced — but was willing to give the city manager time to correct the course. McDade said changes are in the pipeline, but it could take a while to see results. Much of the course correction could hinge on what happens during the upcoming budget cycle. Figuring out how to better maintain DFR’s equipment should be a priority, McDade said.
“All of those things need to be explored to make sure our equipment is in top-notch shape,” McDade said. There are other shops around town that McDade suggested the department could use.
Evans said in an emailed statement that the department’s inventory is “fluid and in constant chance, as recent challenges tied to mechanical problems, combined with supply chain issues, continue to impact almost every industry.” On top of all of that, Evans said the number of grass fires burning across the country has made parts for these specialized units hard to come by. They’re working diligently to fix their fleet and get their engines back in service. DFR has also ordered three more of these specialized vehicles, but the demand for them could mean they’ll take a while to get to Dallas.
Evans said, “In the meantime, DFR will continue to provide high-quality service to the residents of Dallas by relying on its front-line fleet of engines and trucks to respond to such incidents, while requesting assistance from surrounding departments if needed.”
But, McDade said this shouldn’t be a problem in the first place in a major city like Dallas. “We’re the big guys on the block,” he said. “We’re supposed to be helping people and other departments, not them helping us.”