Bad shocks, rough road debated as cause of fire truck damage

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published December 17, 2020

 Officials discussed whether bad shocks or rough roads caused suspension damage suffered by Rescue 4 at Station 4 on Chicago Road.

Officials discussed whether bad shocks or rough roads caused suspension damage suffered by Rescue 4 at Station 4 on Chicago Road.

Photo by Brian Louwers

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WARREN — Everyone agrees that the condition of Chicago Road is bumpy north of the General Motors Technical Center property, especially at the railroad crossing. But whether or not the road was bad enough to damage one of Warren’s newer fire trucks twice in a six-month span was a topic of discussion in early December.

At issue was the damage to Rescue 4, housed at Station 4 on Chicago west of Van Dyke Avenue.  Warren Fire Commissioner Skip McAdams said the 2018 Rosenbauer heavy rescue-pumper, bought for $700,000, suffered suspension damage in June when a shock tower on the passenger side broke loose. In late November, the same thing happened to the driver’s side shock tower.

“When it went it took out the steering control box,” McAdams said. He put the initial damage estimate at $15,000 and confirmed it was covered as a warranty repair. The truck was fixed by a city mechanic certified to do the work and was back in service in less than a week.

Firefighters speculated that the damage was the result of the poor condition of Chicago Road, particularly at the railroad crossing. The road over the tracks was repaired to fix what McAdams said was a 4-inch drop, but he questioned whether the truck’s suspension suffered damage before that.

The situation prompted Warren City Councilman Garry Watts to address the condition of the road, first on Facebook and then at the City Council’s meeting on Dec. 8. He called the road “deplorable” and acknowledged receipt of a letter from Warren City Engineer Jim Van Havermaat, summarizing the repair, the evaluation of the damage and its most likely cause.

Van Havermaat said while the conditions of the road and the railroad crossing were “far from ideal,” it’s unlikely that they caused the damage.

“The condition of the track is not the greatest. I’m not questioning that at all. It doesn’t appear that this failure was caused by the track,” Van Havermaat said later. “That’s from the city mechanic who’s responsible for repairing fire trucks.”

Van Havermaat said he forwarded correspondence to City Council members outlining the process of evaluating the damage. McAdams said three Warren Department of Public Works mechanics are certified to do warranty repair work on vehicles with Rosenbauer suspension.

In the case of Rescue 4, Van Havermaat said the repair summary indicated that the mechanic contacted the manufacturer, Rosenbauer America. The mechanic was then referred to a validation engineer for the suspension manufacturer, who reportedly indicated that the system was designed to handle rough road conditions.

“They have had the problem with the shock absorbers loosening up internally and causing failure over time due to fatigue of the interior components,” Van Havermaat said. “Whatever they’ve done, they’ve replaced it.”

Still, Van Havermaat said he had attempted to contact Conrail about the condition of the railroad crossing. The roadway on Chicago is the city’s responsibility, and he said a pothole in the curb lane on the westbound side was repaired.

Van Havermaat said the stretch of Chicago Road between Van Dyke and Mound Road was currently being evaluated by engineers for repair in early summer 2021.

“I believe in 2008 they did an asphalt overlay on the existing pavement. That was one of the ‘shovel ready’ projects at the time,” Van Havermaat said. “There were limited funds, and it is my understanding from some of the people that were here, there were funding limitations and they couldn’t do some of the things they wanted to do at the time that would have improved it.”

City engineers will reportedly evaluate the condition of the water line, and determine whether the road can be again overlaid with asphalt at a cost starting at about $3.5 million or completely removed and reconstructed for what could be a little more than three times that cost.

Van Havermaat said a 12-year lifespan is about what could be expected for the asphalt resurfacing.

“Well, I don’t know. I did front end work for about 12 years in my early career, so whatever they want to believe is OK with me,” Watts said. “Bottom line is those trucks are being beat to death.”

He said the trucks carry expensive equipment that’s being jostled and damaged by the poor road conditions.

“Even if the truck didn’t get damaged from the road, the equipment’s being damaged,” Watts said. “We all know, going down that road ourselves, we know how our vehicles react.”

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