Missouri State Highway Patrol Garage

In mid-2014, the main maintenance and repair facility for the Missouri StateHighway Patrol suffered a complete loss as the result of a fire. One of the vehicles in for service, parked in one of the bays, caught fire during the night. Soon the entire facility was engulfed. The facility had heat alarms but did not have off-hour smoke alarms.

An aftermarket 110-volt inverter had been installed on a pickup truck. The fire investigator determined this inverter to be the source of ignition. This particular vehicle had been hit by lightning and was acting poorly. It was in the MSHP garage for diagnostics and repair. The vehicle was left at the end of the day with the battery connected but no other facts are known.

The main building is stone block walls. Since the structure had stone walls, it was still standing, but the steel girder roof was sagging in several places from the intense heat. Some of the block buckled from the heat. Most of the damage inside the building was from the smoke and soot. The MSHP radio shop is attached to the garage facility. A firewall separated the radio shops from the garage but the radio shop had heavy smoke damage.

The loss included eight marked and fully upfitted cars in for routine maintenance, including one brand-new one. All of the diagnostic and electronic equipment was lost. The tire balancing and alignment rack were damaged. The steel hand tools were OK, but the tool boxes were damaged, as were all cordless tools.

All of the spare and replacement parts and supplies were either fire or smoke damaged. All of the repair manuals were lost. Most new repair manuals are also online, but all of the computers were lost. Anything plastic was destroyed. While some parts were OK, the boxes they came in were not.


Continuity of Operations

Virtually every major police and sheriff’s department has continuity of operations plans in the event of tornado, earthquake, terrorism…and fire. In fact, the MSHP has such a plan, and it was immediately put into effect. A nod to the preparedness of the CALEA-certified MSHP, they did not need as much as their continuity of operations plans had prepared them for. “We did not put off any emergency service,” said Larry Rains, Director of the MSHP Fleet and Facilities Division.

The Fleet and Facilities Division directs the procurement, assignment, maintenance, repair and eventual sale of the MSHP’s entire fleet. The MSHP fleet consists of 1,400 vehicles and 140 vessels. MSHP patrol vehicles log nearly 30 million miles each year. The Fleet and Facilities Division is also responsible for building and grounds maintenance at the General Headquarters (GHQ) building and the Patrol facilities in the Jefferson City area. As complete as the loss was, the MSHP garage stayed open for business. “We never missed a day. It if was necessary, we did it. There was no disruption in any service,” Rains stated.

The MSHP garage stayed open for business by immediately transferring operations to the collision repair and marine repair centers in adjacent buildings. This, in fact, became the command post. Routine maintenance (oil change, tire rotation–replacement) continued. The process of turning in cars to be decommissioned and issuing new cars continued. The tires stored by the MSHP were in a location not affected by the fire.

During this time, the MSHP headquarters garage did not outsource any work at all. The MSHP has a total of eight garages (troops) across Missouri, each with its own tech. Occasionally, a trooper will have his/her car serviced while at the General Headquarters on other business. During the rebuilding period, this service was referred back to their home facility. The GHQ vehicles and the nearby Troop F vehicles continued to be serviced, but emergency service only.


Start of a Long Process

The process of clean-up, recovery and rebuilding is a long one. “It is a painfully slow process. Be prepared for the process to be much longer than expected,” Rains said. So the first step is to manage expectations. The fire was in April 2014. The goal is to have the open house in November 2015.

The recovery process began with taking every single tool out and cleaning it by hand. Every tool in the shop. Every single lightbar in the facility (over 100) was completely disassembled and cleaned.

The detail shop remained opened, but without heat. Vehicle maintenance and repair operations were relocated to a Missouri DOT facility six miles away. For their part, MoDOT moved people around to make room. All of the routine maintenance and major repair was quickly transferred to the MoDOT facility. The upfitting was transferred to the old marine repair shop, an off-campus location two miles away.

Temps were hired to shuttle cars between all of the impromptu service and repair locations.

Waste Management was called in to clean up hazardous materials, including pumping out and properly disposing of oil and other automotive fluids in the burned-out facility.


Back to Square One

The MSHP considered a number of alternate locations and options for the replacement facility. One was vacated car dealerships, both as a short term and permanent solution. The Chrysler and GM restructuring over the past five years has left many such facilities available. Warehouse locations in industrial parks were considered, again both short and long term.

Rebuilding on-site was obviously considered; however, the footprint of the facility was absolutely fixed. If they were to rebuild on-site, they would have to improve efficiency, improve operations, without any significant increase in size.

As such, now is the time to improve the insulation, improve air line and power drops, improve exhaust evacuation, and improve ventilation and air changes. Whether planning a new facility or faced with the need to suddenly replace one, use that as an opportunity to rethink what you need. Do an honest needs assessment. What has changed since the building was built, or the last patch on a patch was applied? What improvements have you been wanting to make? What would make your facility more capable? More labor efficient? More energy efficient?

For the MSHP, the question was, How has the fleet changed since the then-new 1981 building? First, the mix of the MSHP patrol fleet has dramatically changed from all sedan to a mix of sedans and SUVs. The MSHP has replaced their fleet of mostly Ford CVPI and some Chevy Impalas with a mix of about 600 Dodge Chargers and about 200 SUVs. The SUVs are equally divided between the Chevy Tahoe PPV and the Ford PI Utility. They have always had pickups for the marine fleet but now have both medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks. They now have command vehicles and armored personnel carriers.

More than just the vehicles, how has the staff changed in size since the original building? What does a more complex upfit mean? The repair work? In the past, the techs used to rebuild engines and transmissions. Do you do that now? Most police garages now send serious drivetrain work back to the dealership. Or has your garage become a factory-authorized warranty repair facility? Do you need to add a woman’s restroom to the garage? How about break and/or meeting rooms with kitchen facilities? More lockers or locker rooms? Do you simply need space for more people? Rooms for more garage admin staff? A waiting area? A better way to store parts and supplies?

The MSHP already had separate restrooms. They took the opportunity to add a locker room and a small office. The office is for online training, online record-keeping, and online service and repair manuals.


Improve Vehicle Flow

Their 1981 built garage was never designed to handle larger vehicles. They only have one bay that will accept larger vehicles and it is used for other functions and operations. Even still, this bay has a large door to accept vehicles, but those vehicles must back out of the facility—they cannot pull through. This then led to one of the most important priorities for the new facility: Improve the flow. Make it more efficient.

Importantly, the MSHP used this chance to dramatically improve flow, to reduce heat loss in the winter, to greatly increase their service capabilities, and to increase floor space by 25 percent all while using the same facility footprint. Fewer overhead doors mean less heat loss during the winter months.

The MSHP added a new mezzanine for parts and supplies. The second-story mezzanine is equal to 25 percent of the floor space. This is located above the parts, office and warehouse where the high ceiling had space that was not being used. They also added larger doors to accommodate larger vehicles. They made the ceiling taller and taller all the way through the building. To handle the large and heavy Medium Duty trucks and the APCs, they added a larger capacity lift. Their crew cab, ¾-ton trucks were too long for a two-post lift. New lifts increased their capabilities.

Most importantly, the MSHP totally changed the work flow in their garage. The old garage had six doors per side. Vehicles would be pulled into the service bay, worked on, and then backed out. There was a door for every bay. In the new garage, there are two main doors at either end of the building. Vehicles pull in from one end and stop at a service write-up station. The vehicle then pulls forward and turns 90 degrees into one of the bays to the left or right. When the work is finished, the vehicle backs into the center lane, and continues forward, exiting left or right through large doors at the opposite end.

Those same large doors allow very large vehicles to enter and exit the garage for service. If a large vehicle is being serviced at one side of the garage, the completed patrol vehicle simply exits the opposite side door.


More Efficient Work Flow

More than just the flow of vehicles, the MSHP also looked at the work flow of their technicians. A great deal of what the GHQ-based facility does is upfitting and decommissioning patrol vehicles. The most emphatic advice from the MSHP was to concentrate on the flow of everything. The flow of cars in and out. The flow of the technicians as they perform their tasks. The flow of officers dropping off and picking up their cars.

Since the main upfit tech does not need a lift, his workstation was at the opposite end of the garage from the storage area where all the upfit parts were kept. That was changed in the new garage, making the parts handier, closer…and making the entire upfitting process more efficient.


Design-Build Contractors

MSHP fleet management immediately sought help from the Missouri Office of Administration, Facilities Management, Design and Construction. One of the recommendations from the MSHP is to consider a “Design-Build” company. You could have a building designer (architect), who will develop a concept for the building then design the structure and estimate the cost. Then, with these steps complete, you could bid the design and hire a construction company.

A trend, however, is to use a single Design-Build company with in-house architecture-construction teams. What used to involve up to 20 different people in two separate steps, now involves a single step with a team of five or six people. It is concept to contract to completion with the fewest moving parts.

Rain’s advice when you find yourself in the situation is to reach out to the experts. Visit other police maintenance facilities. What did other facilities do that you like? Or don’t like? Also visit some of the recently built retail car and truck dealerships, and not just Chevy, Dodge and Ford where your cars come from. A new Toyota dealership gave the MSHP some new entry-exit ideas, and some better ways to handle exhaust fumes and helped their decision making on the choice of air compressor.


Construction Parking and Staging

Parking is a significant issue. Most fleet garages do not have enough parking now, especially ones that perform upfitting. Add to that parking for big construction vehicles, contractor parking, material drop-off sites. During the construction process, parking will be a major problem to solve.

Where will the vehicles usually at the garage be parked? Where will the big construction equipment be parked? Where will construction workers park? Where will building materials be staged? Where will cars waiting to be upfitted or serviced be parked? Where will completed cars park? One step the MSHP took was to cover a section of grass lawn with new gravel for overflow parking.

MSHP Fleet Manager Rains credits his entire staff for the fast recovery. Everyone chipped in to help with the salvage and cleanup. The most frequent question was, “What do we need to do next?” A special thanks goes to Jefferson City Auto Supply, a local NAPA parts store. They responded on Day One by promptly delivering auto parts to restock lost inventory and with a catered meal for the dozens of people involved with the cleanup and continuity process. Capitol Chrysler, a local Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-RAM dealership, also reached out and made an offer of temporary shop space.


Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2015

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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