Finding Qualified Technicians is Key to Apparatus Maintenance

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...

"We record all the information about the apparatus when we first get it, not only to make sure we got what we paid for, but to make sure we have all the fluids and the filters and materials we need to maintain the apparatus properly," he says. "There are lots of little things to take care of. The devil is in the detail when it comes to preventative maintenance."

John Finley, president and CEO of Finley Fire Equipment Co., McConnelsville, Ohio, says the key to an effective maintenance program is documentation. "There are many, many computer programs available to help departments keep records of their maintenance," says Finley who is the owner of one of the nation's largest Pierce dealerships and service centers, handling the apparatus needs of more than 700 departments in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. "If nothing else, do it with paper and pen. Keep track of all your pump tests, all the receipts of all the work you've done and keep a file on each apparatus in your fleet."

Finley also recommends that all maintenance be done in accordance with the manufacturers' specifications. Most components, such as pumps, engines and transmissions, require servicing that's based on miles or hours while some components will require maintenance on a calendar schedule, he says.

Finley, who has been a volunteer firefighter since 1976, held ranks up to assistant chief, and is now an assistant chief with the M&M Vol. Fire Department (an ISO Class 3 department), also recommends departments custom tailor check sheets for each apparatus as each will have peculiarities.

"Most departments don't have two identical rigs," says Finley, who has 23 service technicians in his shops. "Each rig is a little different. Some are a little older; some may be equipped just a little differently. It's important to note all of those details."

Finley Fire Equipment's Regional Service Manager, Rick Pugsley, who works in the company's Twinsburg, Ohio, facility, recommends that departments that purchase new equipment should also purchase service contracts through there dealers just to make sure the apparatus is taken care of by factory certified technicians. Dealers often will sell contracts to care for a variety of apparatus.

Pugsley is also the chief of the Newburgh Heights (Ohio) Fire Department, so he understands, first hand, the importance of maintenance. He also understands the need to juggle finances.

"I'd like to change the oil in my rigs twice a year, but my city councilors will only let me do it once a year," says Pugsley, who has been chief of the department 11 years. Fortunately, the department has late model front line apparatus that is in very good condition.

It wasn't always the case, however. Pugsley says that when he first became chief, the fleet was much older and had issues. He recalls a time a primer motor on a pump burned out at the scene of a fire and fried the apparatus' electrical system. It was a diesel apparatus with a mechanical shut off so it kept running.

"We kept pumping through the fire, even after the batteries went dead," Pugsley says, recalling an event he'd just as soon forget. "We got it back to the station and shut it off and that was it. It wouldn't start again. We had to have it towed and fixed. I don't remember how much it was to fix it, but the councilors were not happy."

Making sure things like that don't happen is Kevin Shoup's full-time work as supervisor of fire apparatus for the Dayton (Ohio) Fire Department. In that role, he also has responsibilities for Dayton Emergency Vehicle Services, a municipally-owned business that contracts with several other fire departments in the region to provide maintenance for their apparatus. The shop employs six technicians, Shoup says.

In addition to all the normal things apparatus have, Shoup points out many have generators that require maintenance. And many of those are operated with hydraulics which are filled with fluids that must be kept clean and fresh.

"They always have to be ready to go," he says of hydraulic systems, which also make up the major driving components of aerials as well.

Shoup notes that fire apparatus are almost always required to run at greater than normal operating temperatures. They must be revved high while at a stationary position which eliminates the air flow normally available for trucks in motion, and, they often must be operated next to working fires which also increases the ambient air temperatures. Therefore, the cooling systems must be maintained impeccably and the belt and hose conditions must be monitored closely to prevent failure due to heat fatigue.