The Apparatus Architect: Part 31 - Rebuilding Apparatus

Michael Wilbur and Tom Shand review the need for bringing in outside expertise to properly evaluate your apparatus when deciding to embark on a rebuilding project.


The last installment of The Apparatus Architect reviewed a few success stories with fire departments that developed well-written sets of specifications and utilized their past experience to provide their new apparatus. While determining the requirements for a new piece of equipment can be...


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The last installment of The Apparatus Architect reviewed a few success stories with fire departments that developed well-written sets of specifications and utilized their past experience to provide their new apparatus. While determining the requirements for a new piece of equipment can be accomplished using internal department resources, when deciding to embark on a rebuilding project, you should consider bringing in outside expertise to properly evaluate your apparatus.

The fire service has long prided itself as being both innovative and traditional. One long-standing tradition has been to replace front-line apparatus after 15 to 20 years of service. While this 20-year replacement interval is still used for establishing apparatus replacement policies, a brief survey of major urban fire departments would show that many have adapted programs in which front-line units serve from eight to 12 years and are replaced at 10 to 15 years. The rationale here is that with an increased number of runs and the associated road mileage, that it is prudent to replace the apparatus before the annualized maintenance costs become excessive.

Departments that track the preventative maintenance and repair costs for their fleets often find out that the life cycle costs for a front-line unit in a busy company begin to increase dramatically after the 10- to 12-year mark. Obviously, any fire chief would prefer to have apparatus replaced early during its life - in the range of 10 to 15 years. However, financial constraints may require that first-line units run longer with subsequently higher operating costs. Unions in some career departments have negotiated replacement cycles for apparatus.

From a practical standpoint, we need to understand that rebuilding apparatus simply puts off the inevitable. Sooner or later, the department will have to replace the rebuilt unit with a new one. Given the costs of new apparatus, together with the impact of inflation and government-mandated regulations, some departments have found themselves suffering from inadequate funding for new and replacement apparatus. When this occurs, rebuilding can be a positive, practical approach to providing upgraded units with improved safety and reliability.

If your department is considering an apparatus-rebuilding project, where can you obtain technical information regarding the scope of work that would need to be conducted? First, you should contact the original manufacturer of your apparatus. Many of the larger manufacturers have service and rebuilding centers that specifically cater to this type of work. These centers have technical personnel who can guide you through the process of what chassis and body components should be considered for upgrading or replacement. Manufacturers that build their own cabs and chassis also have programs to provide for enclosed four-door cabs as well as complete body replacements where this would be required.

When rebuilding custom-chassis apparatus, there will generally be a significant number of components and parts that are unique to your apparatus; when possible, replacement parts should be supplied by the manufacturer. Rebuilding commercial-chassis units can be problematic, as any major upgrading of chassis components will be limited to what was previously engineered to adapt to that model and upgrades to the cab area will usually always require an upgrade of the front or rear axles or chassis suspension components.

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