Managing a municipal fleet in the coastal community of Saco, ME, can be summed up in one word: preparedness. This past winter, for example, the city had to contend with the removal of over 100 inches of snow. But thanks to the Dept. of Public Works' (DPW) good planning and preventive maintenance practices, its trucks were ready to deal with whatever “Old Man Winter” had in store.

Responsibilities that fall under the jurisdiction of the Dept. of Public Works in Saco are extensive, but road and utility maintenance top the list. The DPW also operates a recycling center, a transfer station and a solid waste operation.

Much of the credit for the efficiency of the city's fleet goes to Larry Nadeau, director of public works, City of Saco, for the last 13 years. Nadeau, who formerly owned and operated his own construction company, is no stranger to fleet management. He's also a big advocate of technology.

The fleet includes 16 single- and tandem-axle dump trucks. “Right now we've got trucks dating back 10 and 15 years. We even have two FWD units, one a 1968 model, the other 1972. But all that's soon going to change,” says Nadeau. “For the last few years we've been working diligently with city councils to appropriate funds that will allow us to get into a scheduled replacement cycle so we can stay current with equipment and new technology.

“Last year we purchased three new HD International Model 2554 dump trucks and two Ford 550 one-ton utility trucks bringing the total to six one-ton units,” Nadeau continues. “Within the next couple of years we expect to be in a seven- to ten-year replacement window.”

The DPW's maintenance staff, which includes three mechanics, one shop supervisor and a parts clerk, is responsible for maintaining over 200 vehicles, including those in its own division, as well as the city's fire, police, wastewater treatment, parks and recreation, administration and school bus fleets.

“This year, we found we had a reduced amount of vehicle downtime due to breakdowns compared to other years,” Nadeau proudly states. “This was possible because our equipment is newer and we have moved from a reactive to proactive method of maintenance.”

The department is now utilizing the Dossier fleet maintenance program from Arsenault Associates to pre-plan its maintenance needs. The software is also linked to a computerized Tech 21 fuel dispensing system.

A firm believer in the value of thinking outside the box, Nadeau says he is always investigating new technologies and applications for the fleet. For example, on most of its trucks the department has mounted sand/salt application sensors capable of reading road temperatures. Based on the readings, truck operators can make informed decisions as to when they should use sand vs. salt on an icy road.

Nadeau is also looking into equipping DPW trucks with GPS units. “The ability to track vehicles wherever they are, whenever the need arises would help us mobilize more quickly in response to emergency situations,” he says.

Being a coastal community, the City of Saco is well aware of the risk that a hurricane may one day strike. But Nadeau says, “we're ready for the worst.” In fact, the City of Saco has earned the distinction of being selected the first Project Impact municipality in the state of Maine. Project Impact is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program whose objective is to build a national model of a disaster-resistant community.

“We're in our third year with Project Impact,” Nadeau explains. “We were chosen because we're proactive and have a history of successfully mitigating a number of hazards that existed in our city (go to www.sacodpwmaine.com). We've also developed numerous contingency plans, including defining how our trucks are to be dispatched in emergencies. Emergency management boils down to being prepared, and for the DPW that means having equipment ready and able for duty at all times.”