Fire apparatus is getting more high-tech and complex every year. As more electronics and whiz-bang gizmos make their way into our lives, they are making their way onto fire trucks as well. Computers, sensors, controllers and miles of wire serve as the central nervous systems of the 40,000-pound...
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Fire apparatus is getting more high-tech and complex every year. As more electronics and whiz-bang gizmos make their way into our lives, they are making their way onto fire trucks as well.
Computers, sensors, controllers and miles of wire serve as the central nervous systems of the 40,000-pound beasts that are today's fire apparatus. Virtually every piece of the apparatus — from controls for the engines, steering, suspension, pumps, radios and even simple things like warning lights — has some kind of electronics component helping it function.
This is the third story in a series of four for 2010 on the topic of apparatus maintenance by Firehouse® Magazine and Firehouse.com. For expanded coverage, including photos and audio podcasts go to http://www.firehouse.com/0810-apparatus.
According to information from the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers' Association (FAMA), an average of 5,650 apparatus are purchased each year, and they all have some form of electronic computer controls, whether they are commercial or custom cab apparatus. FAMA estimates there are 70,000 fire apparatus in service in the United States and that more than half are over 15 years old, from when electronics and high-tech equipment were not as prevalent as they are today. That still means there are a lot of apparatus in service today with more or less electronics on board, depending on the age of the vehicle, and more new apparatus being added to the national fleet daily.
The good news is that even though apparatus are complex these days, the on-board high-tech components are very reliable and require very little maintenance.
"One of the good things about apparatus today is they don't require much work," said Jason Witmier, pumper/tanker product manager for KME Fire Apparatus in Nesquehoning, PA. "And when they do, a lot of it is remote serviceable with a phone line or Internet connection so a guy at the factory can remotely diagnose a problem and in some cases, reprogram it to fix the problem."
Preventing System Failure
A recent incident in Seattle, WA, however, highlights that those high-tech systems can fail and need to be checked regularly and repaired immediately when a fault is detected.
On June 12, an apparently faulty electronic pad caused a Seattle apparatus to be unable to pump water at the scene of a fire where five people died. There is no indication the pumping failure led to the deaths.
According to KIROTV.com, a local TV station website, Seattle Fleets and Facilities workers spent 39 hours inspecting the apparatus before discovering the faulty electronic pad. The discovery led to Seattle's decision to replace the pads in 10 apparatus.
Incidents like Seattle's are rare, but obviously do happen, said Chief Brian Brown of the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority (SMFRA) Fleet Services Bureau in Centennial, CO.
"When something like that happens, you're done," said Brown. That's why he says he's a big advocate of checking everything on an apparatus on a daily basis.
"Exercise it every day," Brown said. "If you can't do it every day, because you're a small volunteer department, at least exercise it once a week. …There are things that should be done on apparatus daily, weekly and monthly."
Brown is an award-winning Emergency Vehicle Fire Apparatus Technician Level I and II, as well as an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Master Certified Automobile Technician and Master Medium/Heavy Duty Truck Technician. He is also an academy instructor for the Colorado Fire Mechanics Association and an Emergency Vehicle Technician (EVT) testing proctor and a participant of the EVT validation committee.
Brown said it is the apparatus engineer's responsibility to make sure the vehicle performs as required. If it doesn't, it must be reported and fixed immediately or at least decided whether the performance issue warrants it to be taken out of service.