“I am going about it a completely different way, trying to reduce heat,” Weeks said. One way he has hit upon is an unconventional transmission specification which calls for a 10-speed automated transmission as opposed to a full automatic transmission, which generates heat that is cooled by the radiator system.
“They’ve been working great,” Weeks said, noting that the transmissions are full controlled electronically so they operate much like a traditional automatic transmission for the user.
Weeks has found tremendous savings with tires too by using recapped tires for apparatus. In 2010, the department saved $400,000 in the tire budget alone. There was a time when retreaded tires were shunned by the fire service, but Weeks said his department uses Michelin tires exclusively and department officials went to the factory and learned that the same compounds used in new tires are used in recapping retreads.
“We use the casing up to four times before we discard them,” Weeks said. “They’re really good and unless you really look, you can’t tell them from brand-new tires.”
For Weeks, apparatus maintenance today is all about being resourceful and looking for ways to save money, but never compromising safety.
“To me, apparatus are not parade pieces, they’re not showpieces,” Weeks said. “Everything on an apparatus needs to serve a mission to the community.”
Just about in the center of the country, Tyler Chambers is the civilian lead mechanic for the fire department’s division of Tulsa’s fleet service. He too has a challenging time finding top-flight EVTs. Moreover, city officials are not sold on the fact that it is necessary to have certified EVTs. “They think it’s more of a voluntary kind of thing,” Chambers said, adding that the fire department is all for having certified EVTs working on rigs.
When he comes up with qualified heavy-equipment mechanics, they are often stolen away by another department in the city or other agency. “Yes sir, it’s a problem,” Chambers said. In his shop of seven, just he and one other person are EVT certified.
“Trucks these days are so complex that sometimes when we get mechanics in here they don’t have a clue how to work on a fire truck,” Chambers said, noting that he is a strong advocate for EVT certification, something he had for decades, and preaches to its merits whenever he has a chance.
Even more of a challenge is high mileage being put on fire trucks in Tulsa.
“The major trouble we have is an increase in call volume,” Chambers said. “The department has started to make medical calls (responding with a private ambulance company). That has doubled the miles on the trucks.”
Chambers said the extra mileage is taking a toll on the apparatus with increased frequency of brake jobs and general wear and tear. To save money on brake jobs, Chambers said Tulsa has started specifying trucks with electromagnetic brake retarders which has been hugely successful. “We’ve doubled the brake life on the trucks,” he said.
Tulsa also bought several mini-squads to handle the increase in ambulance call volume, he said, noting that the small trucks carry a bit of water and 250-gpm pumps that give some firefighting capabilities as first-responder units.
Finding a solution to resolving problems with engine performance hasn’t been as easy, Chambers said.
Low-sulfur fuel has been raising havoc with the diesel engine injectors, Chambers said, without offering a good solution to resolving the problem. “We’re just dealing with it,” he said.
When it comes to apparatus, Chambers, who supervises seven mechanics in his shop, it has to be right.
“People don’t realize that firefighters count on apparatus to work,” Chambers said. “They trust their lives, and the lives of people in the community, on them working as they should. We have an obligation to maintain that trust.”
Up in New England, Bill Miller has some different challenges. Salt, used for melting ice and snow, eats up apparatus, as do the short runs his suburban Boston department experiences.
Miller works full time for the Wellesley, MA, Fire Department, as the sole mechanic, a position he has had about three years and works part time for the Westwood Fire Department for more than 25 years. During those decades as a mechanic, he has learned the best way to get good service out of apparatus is to buy the heaviest-duty truck possible from a quality vendor.