City of Santa Fe Springs is ready to SERV!

Richard Maben
Fleet Superintendent
City of Santa Fe Springs, California

For those people working in public works it is not hard to imagine repairing broken water mains, downed signal or utility poles, broken sidewalks or damaged pavement. Even power outages or public facility damage can be considered routine work for those in public works, dedicated to maintaining our nation's infrastructure. It would be hard to imagine if it all happened at once throughout the city or region, and even harder to imagine how to be prepared for those routine jobs all at once including the availability of tools and supplies needed. Recognizing the widespread damage caused from recent natural disasters and the ever-present possibility of "the next big earthquake," the City of Santa Fe Springs Public Works Department felt it was important to evaluate its ability to respond to a disaster or emergency.

The City of Santa Fe Springs is approximately 8.5 square miles nestled midway between downtown Los Angeles and Orange County. The City has a residential population of approximately 18,000 and is the employment hub of over 100,000 employees. Providing support to a natural or man-made disaster has always been a priority for the Santa Fe Springs Public Works Department. With that in mind, the Director of Municipal and Utility Services, with the assistance of employees from Signals & Lighting, Water, Facilities, Streets and Fleet Divisions, took on the task of reviewing and updating the Public Works Department Emergency Response Plan.

Police and fire departments routinely plan for the unexpected and often design specialized equipment to support their ability to respond to any type of disaster. Almost every agency has an "Incident Command," "Urban Search and Rescue" or other tactical operation vehicle. The Public Works Department recognized a similar need for a special public works emergency response vehicle and proposed this idea to upper management. With the enthusiastic support of the Director of Public Works, the City Manager, and City Council, staff members were given the okay to develop a first-of-its-kind emergency response vehicle for the Public Works Department. Their challenge, however, was to do this quickly and in a cost-efficient manner.

  Fully-equipped public works vehicle and ready to SERV

Coincidentally, the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department was awaiting the arrival of a new state-of-the-art Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) vehicle to replace their old 1978 vehicle, which was slated for auction. The Public Works Department saw a great opportunity to transform the old US&R vehicle into a new public works emergency response vehicle. This soon-to-be-refurbished truck that originally started its work life as a beer delivery truck was the opportunity staff needed. After a thorough maintenance and safety inspection and several new coats of white paint, the vehicle was transformed into its new role for the Santa Fe Springs Public Works Department.

With the support of the City Council, funding was allocated to refurbish and equip the vehicle to enhance emergency response to the community. While the Department's other vehicles had the capability to respond to emergencies, the service or response that could be provided was more individual in nature. Public Works staff developed a plan to make their new emergency response vehicle fully equipped to provide a more comprehensive support to all divisions of the Public Works Department, including Engineering, Water, Facilities, Streets, Fleet, Signals, and Street Lights, by providing the essential tools needed in one vehicle.

The Santa Fe Springs City Council stands with the SERV. From left to right: Gustavo R. Velasco, Councilmember; Joseph D. Serrano, Mayor; Betty Putnam, Councilmember; Ronald S. Kernes, Mayor Pro Tem; Louie Gonzalez, Councilmember

Each Public Works Division developed a list of what they would need in an emergency if they could not access the maintenance yard or City Hall. The lists were reviewed and narrowed down to essential items. It was ultimately agreed that the vehicle should carry plans for the City's infrastructure, portable generators and lighting, laptop computers, work tools, emergency communications, medical supplies, water, food, street closure signage, and shelter to allow Public Works staff to provide the services to the community over an extended period of time. The actual cost to the City to assemble the vehicle was just under $18,000 which included painting, graphics, vehicle repairs, and emergency equipment.

When the vehicle was nearly finished the Department decided that a special vehicle like this needed to have a special name to identify it, like US&R. The Public Works staff was challenged to come up with a name that could be universally recognized in public works as US&R is in the fire community. After a lot of thought and discussion the Department decided the vehicle should be appropriately named "SERV" which stands for Support & Emergency Response Vehicle.

The SERV debuted to the community during National Public Works Week in 2006 and this one-of-a-kind vehicle was met with tremendous community support and pride. With glistening white paint framed by the intensity of emergency lighting, the SERV has reaffirmed to the residents and businesses in the community that the City of Santa Fe Springs remains committed to emergency response.

Santa Fe Springs Public Works employees are not only prepared to SERV and restore their City when the unexpected does happen, but they are also proud of the fact that they were able to meet the challenge of creating an emergency response vehicle without requiring a heavy commitment of funds.

For more information on the SERV please send e-mail to