Maintenance program pays dividend

WESTFIELD – The Westfield Gas & Electric Department is operated on a business model and like most businesses strives to contain costs as a means of providing competitive service to its ratepayers.
However, the municipal utility still has to deal with a host of regulatory requirements imposed by various state and federal agencies. One of those regulatory mandates deals with maintenance of its heavy vehicle fleet to ensure the safety of its employees and the public, and to ensure that the vehicles are ready to respond to any emergency situation.
General Manager Dan Howard said last night that the department’s fleet “is in very good shape” and that the cost of maintenance has been substantially reduced after a decision to outsource heave-equipment maintenance.
“While effective emergency response to our customers is critical, vehicle maintenance is not a core business of our department,” Howard said. “We found that vendors have the equipment needed to do that more efficiently.”
Howard said the regulatory requirements for inspection and maintenance have increased substantially, making it difficult to meet those standards in house.
The department decided in 2007 to outsource that maintenance to trucking companies, such as Penske Truck Rental, which has a facility on Lockhouse Road, for the first three years and then to Patriot Freightliner, located on Southampton Road, with one year remaining in that contract.
The cost of maintaining the heavy truck fleet has steadily dropped, from $478,297 in 2008 to $221,097 in 2011.
Howard said the 2008 costs were higher due to the effort to inspect all of the vehicles and bring them into compliance with industry standards, but that in subsequent years the cost of maintaining the fleet has dropped.
“We are recognizing the benefits of a fleet maintenance program,” Howard said.
Howard said the department is also in the process of upgrading the fleet to include the purchase of a 50-foot material handler, a heavy-duty vehicle used at job sites.
The department also recently purchased a hybrid bucket truck which has a diesel engine, but uses a battery system for the bucket hoist. The battery system can power the bucket hoist for up to six hours with the engine turned off. At the end of that run-time the engine is turned on to operate the hoist and recharge the battery system.

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