Naperville testing 2 fire engine models, maintenance crews

Naperville firefighters soon will test two new fire engines and two new service plans as they try to determine which will work best moving forward.

In a $1.4 million move some city council members and Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis call an "out-of-the-box experiment," the city will test two models of fire engines and two maintenance companies for the next 10 years.

Puknaitis said the plan will allow the department to see which engine better withstands the test of time and which maintenance company provides better service.

The city will compare the $565,300 Pierce engine the department has favored in the past with a $559,308 E-One model built with similar specifications. Global Emergency Products of Aurora will maintain the Pierce engine for an estimated $172,000 during the next 10 years, while Fire Service Inc., of Naperville, will keep up the E-One engine for an estimated $134,000.

Fire engines so far have been maintained by city mechanics in the fleet services division of the public works department. But the number of mechanics certified to work on fire engines is down from six in 2014 to three, Public Works Director Dick Dublinski said.

Using maintenance companies that specialize in fire engines will decrease the waits of between 16 and 30 hours for city crews to conduct the work.

"It will provide better service for the fire department with less downtime," Dublinski said.

Mayor Steve Chirico said he's "generally supportive" of outsourcing fire engine maintenance, especially because it could take years for city mechanics to build up the certifications needed to work on complex emergency vehicles.

The fire engine "experiment" comes after the city planned to begin leasing fire engines instead of buying them. Last year, the city planned to lease an engine for $75,000 but never entered into a contract.

"The outright purchase of vehicles continues to be the best option for us financially," Finance Director Rachel Mayer said, adding it will save an estimated $240,000 per engine throughout the life of the vehicle.

But contracting out the work of keeping the engines in good running order also seems to be the best option for equipment reliability, Puknaitis said.

City council member Rebecca Boyd-Obarski voted against the purchase and maintenance plan, questioning why the city wants to test two maintenance crews and whether the experiment is worth a roughly $40,000 difference in projected costs. But the rest on the panel supported the move.

"I think this is a great experiment," council member Becky Anderson said, "because if it does work well, it proves that there's other ways to save and create efficiencies within departments."

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