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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During his years in apparatus maintenance, Covert has learned important lessons in keeping the rigs running when the going gets tough. "Keep them clean and make repairs as soon as you can," Covert said.

At Ferrara Fire Apparatus Inc., in Holden, LA, Paul Christiansen, the company's marketing director and aerial product manager, believes the best thing to fight corrosion is to build it in at the factory. Ferrara uses marine-grade aluminum on plates and 6061-T6 aluminum extrusions, according to Christiansen.

"We use some pretty stout components," Christiansen said. "But to take the really adverse conditions, you have to maintain the apparatus."

Hazards of Flooding

One of the particularly severe services Ferrara is acutely aware of, being headquartered in Louisiana, is flooding and the havoc it can raise on apparatus, particularly the rear axle. Christiansen said Ferrara puts an extension on the differential air tube to prevent water from contaminating the lubrication in the gear housing. Water in gear lube can quickly damage the moving parts and contaminated, or even suspected contaminated gear lube should be drained and the components flushed, before fresh lubrication is installed to prevent expensive repairs down the road.

"Anytime you go into flood waters, you should check all the fluid levels and change them if they've got water in them," said Marvin, General Safety's service manager. He added it would serve the apparatus well to hit all the grease Zerks with fresh lube too to drive out any moisture in the joints and fittings.

Rough roads can wreak havoc on apparatus suspension and bodies, never mind the occupants. Christiansen said Ferrara has a special front-end suspension combined with air-ride rear suspension that gives the apparatus a very smooth ride — good to keep the body from twisting too much and beating up the firefighters inside who must endure gravel- or pothole-filled roads.

Some apparatus, like Elgin's ambulances, have four-wheel drive to navigate through the occasional deep snow greater Chicago gets. Covert said all-wheel drive does add more components to the apparatus, but they don't require much in the way of additional maintenance and make sense for severe service.

Engines and Transmissions

Because Ferrara is familiar with flooding and what can happen with operating apparatus in water, the company routinely moves the engine turbo air intakes and filters up above the wheel line to give apparatus limited fording capabilities, Christiansen said.

It's important to remember that virtually no vehicle can operate underwater or in deep submersion. While the air intakes are above a reasonable water line, they are still subject to getting dirty and clogged with particulates, which means they will need to be changed with more frequency in extremely dusty conditions.

"It's important to be aware of what you're doing with your apparatus," Christiansen said, noting that routine filter changing will make a big difference in the apparatus performance and life span.

Suche is a big advocate of changing apparatus fluids on a regular basis as well with departments getting on a regiment of preventive maintenance that has regular service intervals. And, he's also a big advocate of synthetic lubricants. He said they extend the maintenance intervals and can increase the life span of apparatus. Additionally, Suche said, synthetic lubricants work better in extreme temperatures.

"We have apparatus that work in temperatures from 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) to 40 below," he said.

Too often, fire departments forget the transmissions and fail to service them properly, Suche said.

"They need to be serviced every 5,000 miles," he said, noting that departments that neglect transmissions will pay the price when the component is blown because of neglect. Often, firefighters don't even realize they need to be serviced.

Christiansen agreed and said often the things that are not seen can cause the most harm if not serviced. "Things that are hidden don't get checked as often as they should," Christiansen said. And that can have unintended and expensive consequences.