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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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 says, 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 apparatus and any trending. It can also be used to forecast when major repairs or replacement may be necessary. Any time he works on an apparatus, a permanent record is made and kept on file for future reference.

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. "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, WI, Fire Department, the one person 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 asked Vanden Brook about maintaining its apparatus.

"They were sorely lacking in-house with personnel to handle a maintenance schedule," says Vanden Brook. "They had some concerns on how the preventative maintenance was being handled."

So, Vanden Brook, who is a Certified Equipment Manager, says he would take a look and make some recommendations, including the need to look at weight issues on some 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 preventive maintenance that needed to be done.

Vanden Brook believes that firefighters are very good at what they do and should be given good, well-maintained equipment. "They put the wet stuff on the red stuff and we are the ones who get them there and get them home," he says.

Vanden Brook also says maintenance should begin when the apparatus first arrives at the station.

"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. in McConnelsville, OH, 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 owns 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 manufacturers' specifications. Most components, such as pumps, engines and transmissions, require servicing 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, is an assistant chief with the M&M Volunteer Fire Department (an ISO Class 3 department), also recommends that 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."