“I tell people to buy trucks with big motors, thick bodies and heavy duty and they’ll last longer,” Miller said, noting they won’t be as difficult to maintain either. “I try to tell people that the $180,000, $190,000 trucks aren’t going to hold up and they’ll give you trouble over the years…The way we treat stuff in the fire service, it’s not conducive to long life anyway.”
Like the other mechanics mentioned, Miller is a strong proponent of EVT-certified people working on apparatus. “We need to work closely with the chiefs to help them understand the importance of certified technicians,” he said. Miller said he preaches safety and the need for certification in his capacity as the president of the 396-member New England Fire Apparatus Maintenance Association. The association hosts annual training in conjunction with the New England Fire Chiefs Association to make sure mechanics are up to speed on the latest information, techniques and equipment available.
And some of the latest technology isn’t the greatest, in Miller’s mind, particularly the 2010 emission standards. In his community, a long run is five miles on a mutual aid call to another community, which does not give apparatus time to heat up and do the passive regeneration trucks do as they drive down the road. That means the apparatus with the latest emissions equipment in his fleet have to have active regeneration requiring them to be run at higher rpm on the front apron for 30 to 40 minutes.
“That doesn’t make the neighbors too happy,” Miller said, adding the placement of the apparatus is also critical because the exhaust temperatures can get up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. “So, that means you have to put cones up around the exhaust for seven or eight feet around it or someone can get burned. And, if you stop in the middle of the regen, you have to come back and do it again, or go for a very long drive.”
Then, the apparatus has to sit outside, for up to an hour to cool down before being housed and hooked back up to the station exhaust systems. Hooking up a station exhaust ventilation system to a hot truck can cause thousands of dollars in damage, Miller said. But, it is important to be done to the manufacturers’ specifications to keep apparatus running properly and well maintained.
For Miller, maintenance begins when the apparatus is specified. He recommends departments select manufacturers based on their service systems and their local inventory of parts and their availability.
Miller has a variety of brands of apparatus in the two fleets he maintains and each has its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to parts and service. Some make it easy for him to keep the trucks on the road and others take longer to get parts out to the field and the trucks back in service.
“When you are bidding a vehicle, check out the local dealer,” Miller said. “Do they have a full-service center, with a big inventory of parts, or are they working out of someone’s backdoor garage? It will make a big difference in the maintenance of your apparatus. You don’t want to find that the dealer you have been working with is out of business 15 years into your 20-year apparatus life cycle.”
Apparatus maintenance for Miller comes down to “do the right thing.” For instance, don’t do a one-wheel brake job on an apparatus to save money, he said. Keep good equipment in good repair and it will perform as it should for decades, he said.
“Don’t gamble with apparatus maintenance,” Miller said. “Because when you gamble, and lose, it really hurts.”