SFFD beset with breakdowns of its fleet of new engines 

Mechanical problems with vehicles prompt department to seek extended warranty

A batch of 10 fire engines the San Francisco Fire Department bought earlier this year has been plagued with mechanical problems, but the department is negotiating with the manufacturer to extend the machines’ warranties.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said Thursday that the department had received a verbal commitment from manufacturer American LaFrance to ex-tend the part of the warranty that covers all components and workmanship from one year to two.

She said she had asked for a meeting with the manufacturer to push for an extension of another year, for three total. The firefighters’ union, San Francisco Firefighters Local 798, called on Hayes-White to obtain a three-year warranty.

The machines, which The City bought for $350,000 each, were delivered during the first two weeks of February. Since then, they have been in and out of the repair shop with wiring problems, broken windows and sirens that won’t shut off. Most importantly, the engines, which are designed to pull water from the Bay or any other nearby body of water, were fitted with priming pumps that had a tendency to short-circuit.

"It would have been nice to buy one or two [engines] and prototype them and then buy a bunch, but the way the money worked out we had to buy 10 of them all at once," Michael Braun, head of the department’s repair facility, said Thursday.

He said the engines had mechanical problems, but that so far American LaFrance had done a good job of sending out replacement parts and mechanics to fix them. "It seems like it’s been a lot of work, but in actuality it’s been a few problems and they have been spread out over all the rigs," Braun said.

Union president John Hanley said the warranty extension was crucial because of the cost of repairing the engines, which he said had "problems far beyond normal." He said, "We don’t want the taxpayer burdened by a piece of equipment that really isn’t their responsibility. Add that to the fact that it’s a danger to the firefighter."

Hayes-White said she agreed that the warranties should be extended. She said she expected to successfully lobby for a third year of warranty coverage because San Francisco is a high-profile customer that the company can use as an example to other potential customers.

"It’s in their best interest to make sure we’re 110 percent satisfied with these rigs," Hayes-White said.

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