Editor's Note: This article is part of a year-long series that explores the recommendations and philosophies of manufacturers and maintenance crews to help keep fire apparatus in good condition and available for the next response. The series starts on page 56 of the January 2010 edition of Firehouse Magazine and continues with the links below.
Every apparatus in service today is a compilation of various components. There's not a single apparatus builder in business today that makes engines and pumps or the thousands of other components that go in to an emergency vehicle.
Yet, each one of those separate manufacturers has its own specifications and maintenance recommendations. Most apparatus builders will compile those owner's manuals and maintenance schedules and present them on CD or in a binder, or some manner for the end user to know how to take care of their significant purchases.
Every apparatus built needs a cab and chassis, which includes all the running gear, some apparatus makers build their own cabs and chassis from the ground up while others buy them ready-made to apparatus specifications.
Spartan Chassis, a division of Spartan Motors based in Charlotte, Mich., builds hundreds of cabs and chassis specifically for the fire service. Their custom cabs and chassis are used in a variety of apparatus from pumpers and rescue vehicles, to aerials and even ambulances. Spartan Chassis is one of the largest makers of custom chassis in the nation.
Todd Chapman is Spartan Chassis' technical service supervisor and fully understands the importance of well maintained equipment.
"A fire truck has to go when the bell rings," Chapman said.
That's why Spartan has extensive training programs to teach EVTs, dealers, mechanics and even end users (the firefighters) about the maintenance of all components of a fire truck.
Chapman is a strong advocate of the importance of using trained and qualified people to work on trucks, particularly when it comes to brakes.
"If you are not an EVT, absolutely don't touch the brakes," Chapman said. "...They're often the most frequently overlooked part of an apparatus."
Chapman said firefighters and engineers should, however, check the free play of the brake slack adjusters, much like one would do for a pre-trip inspection by an operator with a commercial driver's license (CDL), by hand only. No one, except those expertly trained, should go near brakes with a wrench or a tool, he said.
And there are lots of other systems that really should be serviced by qualified technicians, like electrical systems, heating and cooling systems and suspension and steering systems to name a few.
Chapman said that there is no truck builder out there that builds its own components. They all use engines, transmission, axles and a host of other parts that make the whole apparatus. That's why it's important to follow the specific component manufacturer's maintenance recommendations.
He's also a big proponent of using the correct fluids and filters, even down to the brand name and models.
"You just can't go out and buy the El Cheapo brand filters, or fluids and expect the same performance," Chapman said. "They just won't do the job." He added that he likes synthetic oils and extended life coolants, all of which cost more, but last longer and, in the long run, pay huge dividends in reduced maintenance costs and prolonged apparatus life.
"You get what you pay for," Chapman said.
Bill Foster, vice president and member of the board of directors of Spartan Motors, has been the point man for the annual Spartan Chassis Fire Truck Training Conference for each of the 16 years the company has sponsored the event held in August. It offers training on pumps, compressed air foam systems (CAFS), steering, engines, transmission, electrical systems, tires and suspension with support from many of the component builders.
Foster, who is a co-founder of Spartan Motors and a firefighter for more than 30 years, is an advocate of training right down to the micro level.