Firehouse® Roundtable: Apparatus Maintenance

Fire apparatus and emergency equipment must respond in extreme heat, bitter cold, flooding, dusty conditions, over pothole-filled roads — you name it, it's got to be able to get there. Firefighters and first responders are like the letter carriers of...


Fire apparatus and emergency equipment must respond in extreme heat, bitter cold, flooding, dusty conditions, over pothole-filled roads — you name it, it's got to be able to get there. Firefighters and first responders are like the letter carriers of the emergency services. When other people...


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Fort Garry also uses grommets and rubber seals where wires intersect with metal frames and around pump intakes and discharges to keep dust and water out and wires from chaffing, Suche said. "The big thing is to keep things clean," he said. Suche said spring shackles, wheel wells and other places where road grime can accumulate must be cleaned regularly. Some of the trucks built at Fort Garry never see paved roads their entire service lives, so keeping them clean is paramount to longevity, he said.

Suche has been in the fire service for 30 years, serving as a volunteer firefighter and working as the president and owner of Fort Garry, a business established in 1919 and acquired by his father in 1945. Suche said that because his company knows the trucks they build will be in some of the most extreme environments in the world when it comes to corrosive road treatments, the company uses a heavy undercoating. He recommends departments maintain that undercoating with routine oil undercoating once a year, if possible.

Road treatments can be just as bad in Minnesota where General Safety-Rosenbauer America builds apparatus. Steve Reedy is the vice president and general manager of the General Safety division of Rosenbauer America. He's been in the fire service for 38 years and a firefighter and a chief during his career. His secret to preventing corrosion is the use of dielectric grease, a non-conductive silicone grease designed to seal out moisture and prevent corrosion on electrical connections.

"Apparatus in these parts can be driving in what amounts to a constant salt spray," Reedy said. And, while most electrical connections should be routed through bodies and channels, some are out and exposed in the undercarriage, subjected to the elements.

Apparatus are electrical creatures with lots of wires and lots of electrical components that can be damaged by corrosion and, consequently fail. Therefore, care of wiring is critical for apparatus subjected to severe service, Reedy said. For example, tilt-cab apparatus, equipped with electric motors to raise and lower them, can experience shorts that can cause the cabs to rise while driving, Reedy said. An electrical bridge of salt and crud can be created between the tilt-cab motor and the solenoid that operates it, creating a contact that engages the tilt at any time.

"That can be a dangerous situation," Reedy said, noting that it can be avoided by cleaning the underside of the truck, particularly the motor and connections, which are often located under the trucks in areas that can accumulate crud.

"Keep Everything Clean"

John Marvin is General Safety's service manager and a National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Master Mechanic and an EVT Master as well. He stresses the importance of keeping apparatus clean on the underside.

"You have to keep everything clean, front to back," Marvin said, adding that places like radiator supports and channels are often overlooked during cleaning operations. All moving parts under vehicles need to be cleaned, lubricated and exercised routinely to make sure they are operating when needed.

Marvin also said body and cab mounts should be checked and cleaned regularly to make sure their critical joints do not corrode and fail; Reedy said crud can accumulate between the body and the poly tank, another area that can be overlooked when cleaning.

And while crawling around under the apparatus cleaning, Marvin recommends that signs of chafing be observed and checked. Chafing wires can lead to failure and chafing body parts or running gear can mean broken springs, suspension problems or a number of potentially dangerous mechanical failures.

In Illinois, the Elgin Fire Department, just outside of Chicago, is serious about keeping apparatus clean. Apparatus are washed routinely and then get a periodic thorough cleaning.

"And every time we bring the apparatus in for preventive maintenance, we pressure wash them," said Covert. "It gets all the crud off them and it helps us find any leaks and keep track of them."

Covert, who is a front-line officer in the department, and has been in the business since 1984, has an administrative assignment to look after the department's fleet. His shop, staffed by skilled and trained firefighters, does a lot of the preventive maintenance on the apparatus and the small engine equipment. Larger repairs and serious maintenance work is shipped out to other shops.