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Apparatus Makers Recommend Routine Maintenance for Safety

Editor's Note: 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.

The makers of apparatus, obviously, have a lot to say about the maintenance of firefighting vehicles they make. And, who better to ask how to take care of fire trucks then the people who make them.

E-ONE is a leading apparatus maker in Ocala, Fla., making hundreds of trucks a year with thousands in service around the world.

Rosenbauer America, headquartered in Lyons, S.D., is part of a company that is one of the largest manufacturers of fire apparatus in the world.

Firehouse.com and Firehouse magazine asked these two important makers for some tips on preventative maintenance program for emergency fleets.

"Apparatus is called out when a significant event is happening," said 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."

Miles said batteries need to be charged and connections have to be clean and tight for vehicles to start. Oil and filters have to be clean and brakes are paramount to safe operations, he added.

With 30 years experience in firefighting and apparatus fleet maintenance, Miles knows how easy it is to defer important maintenance, but also knows the consequences. Neglect sometimes takes months, and even years, to show up, but when they do, they can be costly and catastrophic.

"It's a juggling act, no question," said Miles who has been with E-ONE for the last three years. "It's easy to cut the preventative maintenance budget, but the most cost saving measure is preventative maintenance."

Miles said that because fire trucks are used in a variety of ways, from departments that seldom move a vehicle, only to occasional calls, to big cities that literally "run the wheels off of them," each department needs its own maintenance schedule.

"Some departments have to crank them up once a week just to keep the batteries conditioned," Miles said. "In that department, their maintenance schedule might run annually."

As an apparatus manufacturer, Miles said E-ONE recommends department follow the maintenance schedules prescribed by the component maker. For instance, each of the engine manufacturers, like Cummins, Caterpillar, Detroit Diesel and others, have written maintenance requirements, as do the transmission makers, like Allison. Departments should review and follow those recommendations, he said. E-ONE burns a computer CD of all manuals and component manufacturers' recommendations specific for each apparatus the company builds and provides them to the purchasing departments.

"Whenever you do preventative maintenance, even if you're just doing an oil change, you should be looking at all the components and if anything looks unusual, call it out," Miles said. "It could prevent a significant event from happening. If something has changed, or just doesn't look right, check it out and get it fixed."

Miles is a big proponent of maintaining proper tire pressure as well. He points out that for every one pound of pressure a tire is low, it generates an additional three degrees of temperature on them. And too much heat, particularly on fire apparatus that are generally heavy to start with, can cause tire failure and blow outs, he said, noting that peeled tires litter the highways from big rigs that run under inflated tires.

Belts and hoses need to be checked and replaced as necessary. "Any time you tilt the cab for any reason, you should give everything a once over," he said.

When it comes to apparatus, their mechanisms need to work properly every time, largely because of the way they are driven, Miles said.

"It's a pedal to the metal response with lots of hard braking," he said, adding that's hard on vehicles.

Firefighters who drive apparatus should report funny, or unusual noises, or handling problems immediately as they could be the foreshadowing of serious mechanical problems to come.

"If it's leaking, sounds amiss, looks out of place or doesn't feel right, collect as much information as possible and report it," Miles said. "Don't be complacent when it comes to problems."

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, S.D.

"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 has a checklist that includes checking the fluid levels routinely, checking batteries and connections and exercising the equipment by kicking the pump in and out of gear, opening and closing valves, checking the 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 good working brakes properly adjusted and performing 100 percent.

Boer also believes that a good working pump is just as essential. He's a believer in the need for annual pump tests and the importance of keeping track of the pump's performance over the life of the apparatus to trend the pump's condition.

"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."

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