Firehouse® Roundtable Apparatus Maintenance

Fire apparatus that won't start, breaks down enroute to a call or, worst of all, fails at the scene of a fire can have catastrophic consequences. That's why having an apparatus maintenance program is vital to fire department operations.


Fire apparatus that won't start, breaks down enroute to a call or, worst of all, fails at the scene of a fire can have catastrophic consequences. That's why having an apparatus maintenance program is vital to fire department operations. To help departments realize the importance of basic...


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Fire apparatus that won't start, breaks down enroute to a call or, worst of all, fails at the scene of a fire can have catastrophic consequences. That's why having an apparatus maintenance program is vital to fire department operations.

To help departments realize the importance of basic apparatus maintenance and develop programs to keep rigs safe and on the road, Firehouse® Magazine and Firehouse.com have asked manufacturers and apparatus maintenance service departments around the nation for their recommendations and philosophies. This is first of at least four articles on the topic of apparatus maintenance planned for 2010. Coverage will be in print, expanded online and augmented with audio podcasts. See Firehouse.com for expanded coverage.

Experts representing Darley, E-ONE, HME/Ahrens-Fox, Pierce, Rosenbauer/Central States and Spartan, and mechanics and service people from emergency vehicle maintenance centers in Dayton, OH, and Madison, WI, are unanimous in believing that apparatus maintenance should be a high priority, not only to keep the vehicles on the road and safer, but to make sure they perform when needed most.

"Apparatus is called out when a significant event is happening," says Billy Miles, E-ONE's director of operations, service and support. "I tell all my guys to treat the trucks like they were coming to save your wife, or your mother, or your child. …I know if it was my life on the line, I'd appreciate the firefighters being able to get there, do their job and get me to the hospital quickly."

For that to happen, batteries must be sufficiently charged for the vehicles to start, oil and filters have to be reasonably clean, brakes must function properly and myriad other mechanical components must work flawlessly. In these challenging economic times, it's easy to skip preventive maintenance. It costs money and the effects of neglect won't show up for months or years, but when they do, the neglect invariably costs more than the maintenance would have.

"It's a juggling act, no question," says Miles, who has been in the firefighting and apparatus maintenance field for 30 years, the last three with E-ONE, an apparatus maker based in Ocala, FL. "It's easy to cut the preventative maintenance budget, but the most cost-saving measure is preventative maintenance."

And it's never too early to start an apparatus maintenance program, says Glenn Davis, the founder and owner of Lakes Region Fire Apparatus Inc., an apparatus service center and HME/Ahrens-Fox dealer in Ossipee, NH. With front-line pumpers costing $350,000 to $500,000 and up, Davis recommends departments budget at least $3,000 for preventive maintenance in the first year. It should be a built-in cost of doing business when buying new apparatus and is an investment that pays dividends in the long run, he says. Preventive maintenance should begin with delivery, he adds.

Davis, who has been a firefighter in New Hampshire for more than 25 years, is a certified Emergency Vehicle Technician (EVT) and just a few credits shy of a master's certificate. He has been in the apparatus service business since 1991 and operates one of the largest shops in New England, servicing at least 300 apparatus annually. He employs five full-time certified EVTs and makes "house calls" to dozens of departments.

Most of the departments Davis works for do not have their own technicians and service departments and he does full service from chassis lubrication to pump testing to major overhauls. Davis advises departments to check the credentials of those they do business with to make sure the people working on apparatus are EVT certified. "You should ask to see the certifications on the people who will be doing work on your apparatus," Davis says. "Do your due diligence. Apparatus maintenance is expensive and you want to make sure you're getting what you paid for."

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