We caught up with Brandon Atwell, a 26-year veteran with the City’s Office of Fleet Management (OFM) on his career progression, advice for joining the automotive technician field, and tips for putting on brake pads the right way.
Brandon, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a resident of Southwest Philly, graduated from West Philly High, and then went to Lincoln Tech. My career with the Office of Fleet Management (OFM) started in the summer of 1993. One of my favorite things to do is go to the Clark Park with my three kids during the summer.
When did you start managing Fleet Shop 308? Tell us about your career path.
This year marks my 26th year with the City. I started in the summer of 1993 as a High School intern. I was part of the first class of Fleet interns, working at the shop at 26th and Master. After that, I moved up the ladder to become automotive apprentice, automotive maintenance mechanic, fleet maintenance team leader, and finally fleet maintenance supervisor, my current position.
I never thought I would be here, if you asked the 25-year-old me, I would have said “you’re crazy.” Now I manage nine people at Shop 308. I tell people that if you choose to take the step, the City is there for you. Through my apprenticeship I was able to become a well rounded technician.
Tell us more about the kind of training you get from working at OFM.
We get a lot of helpful on-the-job training from others here at Fleet. It is a true mentorship, you learn how to do things the right way. Having this type of support supplements the in-school training that our technicians receive.
What kinds of vehicles come through your shop?
Here at Shop 308 we service around 250 vehicles each year. These are mostly Water Department and Police Department vehicles. We service anything with wheels:
- Smaller SUVs.
- Front end loaders.
- Tractor trailers.
- Lawn mowers.
- Even boat trailers!
My rule is that a vehicle doesn’t leave the shop unless it’s safe. My own family is on the road, so I want to make sure everything is done right. Also, think about all the vehicles that play a role in City services, 90 percent of all City services require a vehicle–when you call 911, the Health Department–everything requires a vehicle.
How has technology played a role in your work? How have changed since you started working with the City 26 years ago?
Every system in the car is a computer now; things have surely changed since I started. The City is often buying new vehicles, and they make sure to keep us up to date on training. We now have all of our maintenance records online, which helps us stay on track with scheduled maintenance. Our online system is the industry standard, we code all repairs, keep records, and track usage.
What would you tell people who are thinking about a career with Fleet?
If you have a genuine want for this line of work, you should pursue it, but it is a demanding job. Every assignment is not going to be fun, but if you have a passion for it, we have a good group that will nurture you.
Interns can come work with us and it helps them make a decision before they decide to go to a technical school. Pathways exist from intern to apprentice to technician. Then from technician you can move up to team leader or supervisor.
Many of our interns and apprentices join us and this is their first job experience. We teach them how to behave in a professional environment, and they take away valuable lessons, even if they choose to leave.
Tell us a funny story from your time working with Fleet.
When I was still new, I was working on a 1989 Plymouth Grand Fury, it was an unmarked police vehicle. I was being cocky and thought I knew everything. When I finished my work, I went to back the car out of the shop it started to make a horrible noise. My mentor humbled me and told me that I had put the brake pads on backwards. I definitely learned my lesson that day.
About Office of Fleet Management
OFM buys and maintains vehicles for 43 City departments. The fleet includes ambulances, garbage trucks, police cruisers, riding mowers, snow plows, and more. All together, OFM is responsible for over 6,000 vehicles owned by the City and its partners. They operate 16 repair facilities staffed by Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)-certified technicians and 64 fuel sites located throughout Philadelphia.