One of three inoperable ladder trucks belonging to the Huntington Fire Department is parked at the Huntington City Garage on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — An external investigation into the Huntington Fire Department's equipment protocol — ordered four months ago after the city's ladder trucks and rescue boats were broken down — has been completed, a city official said.

The city announced in early June it had collected preliminary information and selected someone to conduct the investigation, but did not disclose the identity of the independent reviewer. On Friday, that was still not revealed.

City communications director Bryan Chambers said Friday the investigation has now been completed, but did not disclose any further details.

"(Mayor Steve Williams) has had follow-up conversations about the findings and the next steps are being determined," he wrote in an email. "He will advise City Council, interested parties and the public of the findings within the next couple of weeks."

In his email Chambers did not disclose who had conducted the investigation nor with whom Williams had conversed about the findings. He did not respond to follow-up questions asking for the identity of the investigator and when The Herald-Dispatch could get a copy of any report of the findings.

Fire Chief Jan Rader and City Manager Cathy Burns submitted recommendations for who should conduct the investigation or how that person should be selected, in February. Williams announced the independent investigation in February after two ladder trucks broke down, which raised safety concerns among firefighters and area citizens. A fire rescue boat also has been out of operation since May 2018, more than 12 months after it had been inspected for possible repair.

Since then, many equipment problems have been repaired, Rader has said more recently.

Williams previously said the person who would conduct the investigation could be a consultant referred from the International Association of Fire Chiefs; a local, independent person capable of reviewing policies, processes and records; or someone from an independent accounting or legal firm to conduct an internal performance audit.

The investigator was expected to release recommendations on any shortfalls in current practices, which may include policies, forms, record keeping or reporting, training, job duties and communication, among other things.

The investigation came after the completion of a re-certification process by the West Virginia state Fire Marshal's Office, which had placed HFD on a 180-day probation period in January after inspectors found five deficiencies requiring correction.

The deficiencies included the need for an aerial apparatus inspection and the need for a required self-contained breathing apparatus testing. The report also noted fire engine 2, engine 5, engine 10 and fire tower 2 required motor vehicle inspections.

Rader said at an April 25 presentation the issues had been corrected within a 90-day time frame.

The inquiry into the Fire Department's fleet started in January when a ladder truck broke down because of reported electrical issues. A second ladder truck broke down Feb. 7 because it was 14 quarts low on oil, causing its engine to lock up.

The city was left without ladder trucks and had to rely on mutual aid agreements with volunteer fire departments in Cabell and Wayne counties.

Marine Co. 1, the department's water rescue boat, has been out of service since May 2018 when a pump failure caused it to take on water. Equipment was also damaged during a vehicle transport. In the meantime, River-1, which hadn't been used in more than two decades, was taken out of storage to replace it.

The department is budgeted $50,000 for repairs and had spent approximately $10,371 by December 2018, Williams previously said.

In the months since, Rader has taken responsibility for any problems associated with the department's fleet and equipment, she said at a March budget hearing before the Huntington City Council. Assistant Fire Chief Ray Canafax has been assigned to oversee the department's fleet management program and the department is partnering with the city Public Works Department to maintain regular inspections and repairs.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD. Reporter Travis Crum contributed to this report.


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