Bucaramanga firefighters complete four months without their fire ladder machine

Said vehicle, whose cost exceeded $4.5 billion, is parked and unused in the Bucaramanga Fire Department parking lots. Another vehicle, a tanker, also remains parked, although it is operational.

This stair machine has a reach of 30 meters and can reach the 11th floor of a building. (Photos: Marco Valencia / VANGUARDIA)

Complaints about damaged and unmaintained vehicles were published in recent days on social networks by some members of the Official Bucaramanga Fire Department.

In these complaints, it was stated that several of the institution’s vehicles were parked awaiting repairs, including the most expensive of the entire fleet: the ladder machine acquired in 2018 for a value that exceeded $4.5 billion.

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This Monday, Vanguardia toured the facilities of the Bucaramanga Central Fire Station, with the aim of verifying the breakdowns reported by members of the entity, which has provided service to the city since 1949.

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Rescuers without ladder machine

Work such as rescues at heights and extinguishing flames on high floors are some of the emergencies for which the Municipality and the Bucaramanga Fire Department designed and acquired this vehicle, manufactured and imported from Germany.

Despite its importance and being a key tool for the deployment of fire brigade interventions, this ladder machine, with a reach of up to 30 meters in height, has been parked and unused for four months.

“The fifth month of the year begins and the ladder vehicle continues to break records out of service,” the complaints warn.

Given the assertions circulating on social networks, the directives of the fire department explained why this multimillion-dollar machine remains parked.

Jorge Peña, Operational Commander of the Bucaramanga Fire Department, made it clear that this vehicle suffered damage in the middle of responding to an emergency, a breakdown that resulted in affecting part of the electrical system that controls the 30-meter ladder.

“It is not out of service due to lack of maintenance. The situation arose after an emergency involving bees, in which it was necessary to use this high-altitude vehicle to access the colony, a situation that is much larger than a swarm. In the middle of these maneuvers, the vehicle became tangled with some loose cables that were in place, and the accident affected the control chair,” Peña said.


When will it operate again?

The Official Fire Department reported that the respective procedures have already been initiated for the manufacturer of the ladder truck to carry out the electronic repairs required by the lifting system.

However, the institution does not have an estimated date on when this useful tool for heights could be available again. It is likely, according to what was reported, that this machine could be parked for about half a year more.

“Routine maintenance of the vehicle is done in a local workshop, but everything that has to do with the ladder system must be intervened directly with the manufacturer, it is a guarantee that exists and insurance policies that are active. The process is already advancing at the headquarters in Germany. They told us that the vehicle must be left still, and that its repair could take between four and six months,” added Commander Peña.

According to official data provided by the Bucaramanga Fire Department, this repair has a cost close to $950 million.


A ‘tank car’ is also unused

In addition to the ladder machine, in the tour carried out by Vanguardia, a tanker truck was evident that is not used either, because it has problems related to its registration; although apparently it is a vehicle suitable for providing service.

Diego Orlando Rodríguez Ortiz, General Director of the Bucaramanga Fire Department, explained that “this vehicle was acquired in 2001, it is an excellent truck, but its acquisition was not done properly: there is no ownership card. The machine works, and very well, but 20 years later it is still not legalized.”

The official indicated that such an inconvenience makes it difficult to comply with obligations such as technical-mechanical inspection, among others. The Director of Firefighters specified that a procedure will be carried out before the Prosecutor’s Office, to establish the ownership of said ‘tank car’.

“This vehicle is not used again, unless there is a force majeure emergency. Taking that car onto the streets is a real risk and could generate legal consequences against the institution,” explained the Operational Commander.

According to official information from the Bucaramanga Fire Department, 14 vehicles are currently available for different interventions, including firefighting machines, fast attack and emergency vehicles, and tanker trucks.

“These complaints were made by some colleagues, who intend to cause damage to the name of the institution. Outside of the two vehicles mentioned, all are operational and in service,” stressed Fabio Larrota Lizarazo, president of the Bucaramanga Firefighters Union.


More than a billion for maintenance

After reviewing the official information on the entity’s contracting processes, it was evident that over the last year the entity allocated more than one billion pesos to contract corrective and preventive maintenance tasks.

In March 2023, the Bucaramanga Fire Department signed a contract for nearly $735 million, to guarantee said maintenance until last December. In that month, the same contract had an addition of money for around $367 million, to extend these repair works until the first half of 2024.

The General Directorate of Firefighters specified that such contract remains in force and indicated that through it the 14 vehicles that the entity currently has are in optimal operation.

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