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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Finley Fire Equipment Regional Service Manager Rick Pugsley, who works in the company's Twinsburg, OH, facility, recommends that departments that purchase new equipment should also buy service contracts through dealers to be 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, OH, 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 for 11 years. Fortunately, the department's late-model front-line apparatus are in very good condition. It wasn't always the case, however. Pugsley says that when he first became chief, the fleet was much older. 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 shutoff, so it kept running.

"We kept pumping through the fire, even after the batteries went dead," Pugsley says. "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."

Todd Chapman is one of those called when something goes wrong and he helps to make it work again. Chapman is the technical services supervisor for Spartan Chassis, a division of Spartan Motors, a maker of custom fire cabs and chassis. Many apparatus manufacturers, large and small, use Spartan cabs and chassis.

"A fire truck has to go when the bell rings," Chapman says. 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 apparatus, particularly when it comes to brakes. "If you are not an EVT, absolutely don't touch the brakes," Chapman says. "…They're often the most frequently overlooked part of an apparatus."

Chapman says that 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 says. And there are many other systems that should be serviced by qualified technicians, like electrical, heating and cooling, and suspension and steering systems.

Chapman is also a proponent of using the correct fluids and filters, even down to the brand names and models.

"You just can't go out and buy the El Cheapo brand filters or fluids and expect the same performance," Chapman says. "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," he says.

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, transmissions, electrical systems, tires and suspensions with support from component builders.

Foster, who is a co-founder of Spartan Motors and a firefighter for more than 30 years, is an advocate of technician training right down to the micro level.

"You can't fix a problem unless you know its root cause," he says. "If you've got a problem, you've got to diagnose it to fix it." Too many technicians are just "parts changers" these days, Foster says. To fix a problem, the technician needs to know why that component failed in the first place. It could be something as simple as a poor battery ground, but until that problem is fixed, changing the part isn't the solution, he says.

"People like to have good working trucks," Foster says.