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A Hummel Report Investigation

Ready for Inspection

The state says if you want to put a vehicle on the road, it's got to have a valid inspection sticker. This week we find engines in the Central Falls Fire Department that have failed inspection, but are driving around with expired stickers anyway - one nearly a year overdue. Jim Hummel sits down with the chief to find out why.



Hummel:  ``The state says if you want to put a vehicle on the road, it's got to have a valid inspection sticker. This week we find engines in the Central Falls Fire Department that have failed inspection, but are driving around with expired stickers anyway.''

You can see them out on the road every day responding to emergencies, or on this day for a building inspection. At first glance they look  like most other fire engines. Except that the two engines in Central Falls have expired inspection stickers - after failing to pass their annual checkup this year.

Engine 1, which the department bought in 2002, has a worn Pitman Arm, which means there is play in the steering wheel.

Engine 2, which is nearly 20 years old, had a broken leaf spring.

The department's chief of 25 years, Rene Coutu, says he has been aware of the problems and is working to have them fixed. But, he adds, the department has had three administrations to answer to over the past several months and that has put his department behind - on both inspections and repairs.

Coutu: ``We've had a transition from regular city municipal administration, to a receiver, who had a system they wanted established to be able to go out and get vendors and prices, to a state receiver, who felt they had a better system using what the state does. We respect that. But there's been a little delay.''

With the city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for months, money has been extremely tight. And unlike previous years, the chief is now required to get three quotes for repair work, which backed up the process in July and August. Coutu says he does not believe either problem is serious enough to take the vehicles off  the road.

Coutu: ``We had another  vehicle in that July group that had a broken leaf spring.  To me having one broken leaf spring wasn't an issue enough because that vehicle doesn't go on the highway. That could be on the road until  we get prices and get it fixed.''

As for the Pitman Arm on Engine 1?

Coutu: ``There's play in it but not enough that it's dangerous. We don't do 65 (mph). We have to maintain a low speed within the city. It's a big vehicle - we have narrow roads. So I felt comfortable the vehicle could still be used.''

Then there's Engine 3, which has an inspection sticker that expired in October of 2009. Central Falls bought the engine from Valley Falls last spring and put it through its own tests when the vehicle arrived six months ago, but somehow everyone missed the sticker.

Coutu says the department uses it as a reserve vehicle,  although we found it out on the road responding to a call last week, the expired sticker clear for everyone to see.

Hummel: ``Did nobody notice that?  What do you say to the public who says: you've got a vehicle that is very public,  it's out riding around and a sticker that's almost a year old now. What message does that send?''

Coutu: ``It's not a good message, you know, it's almost something like you're justifying that anybody can do it. If it was a vehicle on the road  every day, it might have been able to be noticed.  If it was sitting where Engine 2  is.''

Hummel: ``But none of your guys picked that up, the mechanic didn't pick it up?''

Coutu: ``The mechanic did all of the work on it  - not the inspection,  though.''

Hummel: ``Will that be going in for inspection, though?''

Coutu: ``Tomorrow morning.''

Since our, inquiry Engine 2 has passed inspection. And several other vehicles will be repaired and inspected by the end of the month. During our interview, the chief repeatedly took full responsibility for the situation.

Hummel: ``For the average person out there on the streets of Central Falls, who may get ticketed with either a five-day notice and demand  tag or an $85 fine from a police officer because they have an expired inspection sticker, what do you say to them for your trucks that are riding around and don't have a value sticker?''

Coutu: ``That's a tough question. Everybody has to have it done. We  failed in that aspect. 

It's got to be taken care of. It's never happened in the past.''

And he says, it won't happen long he is chief.

In Central Fall, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.

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