As more mail trucks burn up, the national labor union for letter carriers has issued a new warning about fires in the vehicles.
The National Association of Letter Carriers – which represents city letter carriers – said the threat is increasing, and risks to letter carriers are growing as the U.S. Postal Service fleet ages.
At least six mail trucks have burned up so far this year, according to a tally by the Postal Times. In 2018, 17 burned, while 42 caught fire in 2016.
One of those fires occurred Jan. 3 in Dunstable, Mass., according to the town’s Fire Department. No one was injured, but the truck was destroyed.
In Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 23, a mail truck caught fire on a snowy street, rolled backward and stopped in the lawn of a house in the residential neighborhood. No one was injured in that incident.
The federal agency has a plan to replace its estimated 140,000 daily mail trucks – called long life vehicles, or LLVs – with next-generation delivery vehicles. But the program has been mired in delays since it was publicly launched in 2015. Most of the trucks in the Postal Service fleet are more than 20 years old.
“As LLVs continue to age, the threat of vehicle fires and the risk to letter carriers increases,” the union wrote in the January Contract Talk column of its Postal Record magazine.
An issue for years
Mail truck fires have occurred around the country for years. Lack of proper and timely maintenance in conjunction with failed fuel-system components and overloaded wiring have contributed to the fires, according to Postal Service memos.
The union had previously noted the fire danger in its publication in 2016. Its website includes Postal Service safety memos and contract language governing mail truck maintenance and inspection requirements.
The aluminum-bodied Grumman Long Life Vehicles were built from 1987 to 1994 and lack many modern safety features. They are not designed to handle the number of packages the Postal Service now delivers.
Competition winner expected soon
The agency is expected to announce this year which company has won the prototype competition. It will then issue a request for production proposals to build up to 180,000 new mail trucks. The deal could be worth up to $6.3 billion over nine years based on the agency’s target price of $25,000 to $35,000 per vehicle.
The Postal Service “expects the first vehicles to be delivered within 12 to 18 months” once testing is done and a manufacturer is awarded a contract, Christopher Jackson, the union’s director of city delivery, said in the union magazine this month.
As Trucks.com reported last month, that award is now expected early this year, a delay from the agency’s earlier estimate of an early 2018 announcement. So new trucks may not be on the way until 2020 or 2021.
Four years ago, the Postal Service awarded five companies contracts to produce 50 functional prototypes for a new mail truck. The prototypes had to include different sizes of trucks and interior configurations. Internal-combustion engines and electric-powered engines were part of the mix. Testing began in fall 2017.
The competitors are AM General; Turkey’s Karsan teamed with Morgon Olson; Oshkosh Corp. teamed with Ford Motor Co.; India’s Mahindra; and VT Hackney Inc., part of the Singapore Technologies Engineering Ltd. group, teamed with Workhorse Group.
A previously unknown participant, London EV Co. USA, which said it had teamed with AM General on an electric option, will withdraw after the testing phase. LEVC USA was previously known as Emerald Automotive. AM General did not respond to a request for comment at the time. All the companies are prohibited from commenting on the program.
The letter carriers’ union also reminded its members what to do when a fire occurs: Letter carriers should not try to save mail from a burning truck. They also were instructed on preventative measures to take to lessen fire risk: They should be careful to follow all procedures to inspect trucks, report maintenance issues, assure repairs have been completed and follow up on all potential maintenance problems.