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Inspector General concerned about liability associated with BCFD's take-home vehicle policy

Baltimore City Fire
Posted at 2:18 PM, Aug 04, 2021

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore City Inspector General (IG) on Wednesday released a six page investigative report into the fire department’s take-home vehicle policy.

Previous complaints alleged the policy amounted to financial waste.

Currently the fire department uses 35 take-home vehicles for on-call emergency situations.

In the city, each agency vehicle is paid for by the mile. Initial warranties typically last for either three-years or the first 36,000 miles, but do not include brake and tire coverage, or oil changes.

According to information provided to the IG, the annual estimated maintenance and repair expenses for all 35 take-home vehicles is $165,770.47, which brings the total cost so far to around $775,168.17.

The IG found that seven of the 35 take-home vehicles are assigned to members who live out-of-state and travel more than 35 miles to work. Four of them are shift commanders. Department policy requires members who take a car home to live within 60 miles of the closest city fire station.

Those seven vehicles alone equate to at least 102,691 miles a year totaling $63,096.76.

Every city vehicle is installed with a device that records odometer and fuel miles whenever an employee fills up at a gas station.

That information gets uploaded into a system, which tracks the vehicle's record on maintenance, warranties, and repair costs.

Fire Chief Niles Ford told the IG that GPS devices were removed from take-home vehicles, claiming they caused batteries to drain. As result, the IG was unable to review any prior records.

Under the current policy, Deputy Chiefs and above are automatically assigned a take-home vehicle, with Ford deciding who gets the others.

The department's procedure manual says take-home vehicles are only to be used for official work related business.

Ford said that policy is more relaxed. For example, employees are allowed to take their families to restaurants in the take-home vehicle, to ensure a quick emergency response.

In that situation an on-call member’s family would potentially need to go with them, which the IG feels could present risk management and liability concerns for the city.

The procedure manual does not specify who can and can't ride in city-owned vehicles.

In response to the IG's report, Ford said the department reduced the available number of take-home cars by 10 in 2020, and pledged to review the policy again in order to make necessary changes.