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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The trend today is to make more things "maintenance free," but Foster cautions it doesn't exempt mechanics from checking the trucks over. "Even those systems need to be monitored," he says. "They can sometimes fail or need to be serviced."
Apparatus that is used carefully and built well can, however, be relatively low maintenance, says Harold Boer, president of Rosenbauer America, Central States Division in Lyons, SD.
"Keeping a truck in good repair and well maintained really isn't that difficult," says Boer, who is chief of the Lyons Fire Department and a builder of fire apparatus since the mid-1970s. He says his department uses a checklist that includes checking fluid levels routinely, checking batteries and connections, and exercising equipment by kicking pumps in and out of gear, opening and closing valves, checking primer motors and generally making sure everything is moving and working as expected. Tire pressure is also important and should be checked occasionally, especially if a problem is suspected, Boer says. And like everybody in the fire service, Boer stresses the importance of brakes being properly adjusted and performing 100%.
"You want to make sure you don't have any leaking valves or vacuum leaks," Boer says. "You might find you need a few more RPMs to get the same performance out of a pump than you did a year ago. Some of that should be expected with older apparatus, but if it's a lot, it could be a problem."
For W.S. Darley & Co., with facilities in Itasca, IL, and Chippewa Falls, WI, pumps have been a staple for more than a century. Each year, the company hosts training sessions at the factory and at various events around the country.
Lairy Normand is a sales application engineer for Darley and an instructor for the company. Like Boer, Normand is a proponent of annual pump testing and regular maintenance and says that, like engines, pumps need regular oil changes at 50 hours of operation or every six months, whichever comes first. Keeping the oil level full is also important, he says. "The big midship pumps have dip sticks on them now making it easy to check the oil," Normand says. And, pumps equipped with CAF systems now have air filters that need service, he adds.
Darley makes filter kits for its pumps and Normand says he does not recommend straying from manufacturers' requirements. There are times when filters will look exactly like those that come from the factory, but they perform differently and can, sometimes, adversely affect operations. "It's not a good idea to outsource filters," Normand says.
Pumps are equipped with electronic controls, pressure-relief valves as well as pump seals and valves, all of which must be working in concert and at peak to get the most out of the pump's performance, Normand says. Leaky valves will mean the apparatus will have difficulty drafting, Normand adds, noting that valves need maintenance and occasional rebuilding. Sticky valves can be remedied with silicone sprayed into the intake or discharges, right on the balls behind the caps. Driveshafts that run pumps also require maintenance and packing nuts need adjusting occasionally too, and there are foam systems that require care to work properly, Normand says. "A truck well cared for in the fire hall will perform well on the scene," he adds.
Caring for apparatus is Kevin Shoup's full-time work as supervisor of fire apparatus for the Dayton, OH, 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.