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Severe Service Maintenance: Heating, Cooling and Climate Control

Heating and cooling apparatus that is required to perform in extreme conditions can be challenging. High temperatures can cause engine overheating and failure very quickly if not kept in check.

Conversely, extreme cold can make engines not run efficiently and freeze up if the coolant level is not appropriate.

Extreme temperatures are not only tough on the apparatus, but the people who must use them. Often, apparatus that are required to work in extreme conditions often have special auxiliary cooling and heating systems to regulate the temperature of not only components on the rigs, but the people who use them.

For instance, it's not uncommon to see large custom-cab apparatus that have dual climate controls, with large recreational vehicle-style air conditioners on the roofs if they're being used in the extremes of the desert Southwest or the Middle East. Nor is it unusual to have apparatus with elaborate diesel-fired heaters in their pump houses to keep the water moving at 40 below zero.

All of that specialized equipment needs routine maintenance, as much as any other component on the apparatus.

Paul Christiansen, the marketing director and aerial product manager for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, said climate control for personnel is not only a matter of comfort for occupants, but it can be required for many medical supplies often stored in apparatus cabs.

"We don't always think about climate control in apparatus, but it's important for a lot of reasons," Christiansen said.

In very hot climates, apparatus are often equipped with 120-volt AC current-powered air conditioning systems that are plugged in around the clock in the station and then powered by AC on the apparatus during responses.

That way the medical supplies and other equipment in the cab are kept at a constant temperature and occupants are comfortable from the moment they get into the cab, Christiansen said.

There are not many things that are user serviceable on those kinds of climate-controlled systems, but Christiansen said there are filters that should be changed routinely to keep the air fresh and the systems working efficiently. "They work like furnace filters," he said.

Ferrara also has done a lot with insulation to keep cabs cool and has found a spray on ceramic product, called Lizard Skin, which has been found to shed heat well and has been effective on apparatus the company has shipped to Saudi Arabia.

On the extreme opposite end of the climate scale and even continental geography, Rick Suche, president and owner of Fort Garry Fire Trucks Ltd., in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, said cabs are warmed with auxiliary heaters.

Pumps must also be kept warm with heater cores that take hot water from the engines and circulate it through the pump houses to prevent freezing, he said, adding that in those conditions the pump house must be completely sealed and enclosed to keep the heat in.

In Canada, where many of Suche's trucks are in service, the responses can be 50 to 80 miles. In that time, pumps can freeze solid and cause damage, or at the very least not work upon arrival. In those cases, the diesel engines may not generate sufficient heat to keep the engine at the appropriate operating temperature, and the cabs comfortable as well as the pump house, he said. Some apparatus have separate diesel-powered engines to produce supplemental heat for external uses, he said, noting that those apparatus need routine maintenance, like any mechanical equipment.

Experts agree that pumps requiring supplemental heat need more than just a heat-retaining pan on the bottom of the pump house, which does little more than catch the crud thrown up under the apparatus and provide a place for corrosion to spawn.

Auxiliary heaters and cooling units are typically only found on apparatus used in extreme service and require the extra attention to keep them working when the elements dish out their worst.

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