Fire apparatus are sophisticated, complicated machinery and, generally, it's best to leave repairs and maintenance to trained professionals. Certified Emergency Vehicle Technicians (EVTs) can be found in privately owned shops and dealerships as well as municipally-owned maintenance facilities.
Firehouse.com and Firehouse magazine talked to several around the nation to get there take on the best practices for apparatus maintenance.
Glenn Davis, the founder and owner of Lakes Region Fire Apparatus Inc., an apparatus service center and HME/Ahrens-Fox dealer in Tamworth, N.H., is one of those technicians solicited for information.
Davis, who is very close to earning his master's certification as an EVT, said it's very important departments find qualified people to work on their apparatus. A mechanic with a tool box, a pick up and a business card isn't enough qualifications to work on fire trucks.
"You should ask to see the certifications on the people who will be doing work on your apparatus," Davis said. "Do your due diligence. Apparatus maintenance is expensive and you want to make sure you're getting what you paid for."
Apparatus today are sophisticated machines with complex components that not every shop will know how to maintain.
"If your shop doesn't know what VMUX is, you should walk out and find another shop," Davis said, referring to a type of electrical system found on many modern apparatus.
Davis is also big on the need to document all repairs and maintenance. It will show the overall condition of the apparatus and any trending. It can also be used to forecast when major repairs or replacement might be necessary. Any time he works on a truck, a permanent record is made and kept on file for future reference.
As a firefighter with more than 25 years in the service, Davis recognized the need for good, qualified apparatus maintenance and started his business in 1991 and now operates one of the largest businesses of its kind in New England, servicing at least 300 apparatus annually. He employs five full-time certified EVTs and makes "house calls" to dozens of departments.
To get started with a maintenance program, Davis recommends a baseline inspection of the fleet and a detailed report of the strengths and deficiencies of each particular apparatus.
And the best way to do that is to assign the task to one person.
"Somebody has to be in charge of the department's maintenance program," Davis says, suggesting the chief engineer could be assigned the task, or the chief. "Each department needs one guy who is accountable for apparatus and equipment and that should include chainsaws, portable pumps, generators and positive pressure fans." That's all stuff that rides on apparatus and needs to work when it's needed, Davis says.
For the Madison, Wis., Fire Department, the one guy who is in charge of all the apparatus stuff is Bill Vanden Brook, the Fleet Service Superintendent for Wisconsin's capital city.
In 1997, the fire department came to Vanden Brook to ask him about maintaining the department's apparatus.
"They were sorely lacking, in house, with personnel to handle a maintenance schedule," said Vanden Brook. "They had some concerns on how the preventative maintenance was being handled."
So, Vanden Brook, who is a Certified Equipment Manager, said he'd take a look and make some recommendations, including the need to look at weight issues on some of the apparatus and the need to eliminate the habit of firefighters being allowed to drop by with their apparatus at a moment's notice to take care of sometimes trivial items that distracted from the preventative maintenance that needed to be done.
Vanden Brook is the kind of guy who believes that firefighters are very good at what they do and should be given good, well-maintained equipment.