Challenging fleet work met with efficiency
Renton, Wash.—Managing and servicing a fleet of several hundred cars, trucks, and specialized equipment can be challenging job, but Ron Kahler, fleet manager for the Maintenance Services Division of Renton’s Public Works Department said the tenured staff in his department handles the workload with great efficiency.
A city with a population of 100,000 and situated about 10 miles southeast of Seattle, Renton has had continued growth with annexation and expanded citizenry, which has also extended the number and types of vehicles the city operates, Kahler said. “We currently have 503 total vehicles that range from fire trucks to police units, stump grinders to street sweepers,” Kahler said. On a recent visit by Parts & People, the 12-bay maintenance shop was servicing a fire truck, two fire department medic units, a police motorcycle, a dump truck, a large lawn mower/tractor, a bulldozer with a front scoop, and other assorted equipment.
“We service vehicles and equipment for virtually every department in the city, including parks, public works, fire, police, motor pool, and the vehicles used at Renton Airport,” Kahler said. “That includes providing specs for new or replacement vehicles to requisitioning them to servicing them through their life cycle.”
While fleet manager at Renton for just over a year, Kahler has extensive experience in the field as both a technician and fleet and maintenance manager. A graduate of Lake Washington Vocational-Technical Institute (now Lake Washington Institute of Technology) in Kirkland, Wash., Kahler said he was a technician in shops and was in fleet management with the Washington State Patrol for 13 years, the city of Seattle, and most recently the fleet manager for the University of Washington for six years. “Having been a working technician at one time is a real advantage to understanding a fleet manager’s job and the concerns of technicians,” he said.
Active in maintenance industry affairs, Kahler said he has been on the board of trustees of the Vehicle Maintenance Management Conference (VMMC) for many years and currently serves on the VMMC steering committee as well. In addition, he is Puget Sound Chapter chair of the National Association of Fleet Administrators Association (NAFA); a member of the Public Fleet Managers Association (PFMA), a Northwest network group; and on the steering committee of Western Washington Clean Cities, a nonprofit organization that promotes the use of sustainable alternative fuels and technologies.
Under the direction of Mike Stenhouse, the director of Public Works, Kahler said he manages a staff of nine, including seven technicians, Parts Manager/Fleet Management Technician Tom Brain, and himself. “The shop operates almost 50 hours a week from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday-Thursday, and until 3:30 p.m. on Friday,” Kahler said. “After hours, we’re on call and technicians take turns being available to assist when needed. Generally it’s fire and police vehicles after shop hours, but during inclement weather it could be snow related,” he said.
Though many of the functions of the fleet operation are comparable between the University of Washington and Renton city’s fleet, Kahler said at the university his department handled more than 120 Toyota Prius models and mostly motor pool vehicles. “We have just a few Prius models here and a small motor pool, plus we have fire trucks that are constantly being inspected by fire crews and due to their complexity require a great deal of service. We have one technician that basically just services fire equipment.”
While other fleet operations may likely have a larger staff for the number of vehicles maintained, Kahler said his group is well seasoned and very self-sufficient allowing for exceptional productivity. “They range from 12 to almost 30 years experience here at the shop, and they each have credit cards to obtain the needed parts for vehicles so they can call directly to parts sources or even go to the local hardware store and procure materials to make a part for a vehicle.”
The maintenance shop has a training budget for ongoing training, Kahler said, and he has brought manufacturers’ reps in-house for various types of vehicle system, safety, or equipment training. Technicians may also attend training venues outside of the shop.
Brain oversees a parts room in the maintenance shop that he said has an inventory of about $173,000. Kahler said they stock regularly used products from filters to wire to door handles, but use a variety of parts suppliers from local parts stores such as NAPA, Highlands East Auto Parts, Romaine Electric, Valley Freightliner, Peterbilt, and others.
With a diverse mix of light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles and equipment, Kahler said they use a variety of diagnostic equipment. The shop has tools from Snap-on, OTC, and others, including Ford, GM, FCA U.S., Cummins and Allison. “We have only one fire truck equipped with a Detroit engine with the remaining heavy-duty vehicles equipped with Cummins and Allison powertrains, which is a good combination for us.”
In the light- and medium-duty realm, diesel-equipped vehicles being replaced are generally speced with gasoline engines, Kahler said, due to the price of diesel-equipped vehicles, diesel fuel costs, and usage by city departments. “It saves the city a lot of money and we still get usable vehicles for each department.”
One challenge Kahler is facing, one common to all segments of automotive and fleet service, is the addition of a technician for his staff. “It’s been an ongoing issue for some time. We’ve gone through the process of postings, resumes, and interviews and have not found the right person. Although we seem to be competitive with other local cities, it is challenging that we cannot find a qualified technician.”