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In his shop, there are 50 technicians and there often are needs for new technicians. That’s why the department developed a relationship with the community college program to recruit technicians. He hopes to renew that program in 2013. He will need the help to keep the department’s 1,700 pieces of rolling equipment maintained, including at least 600 primary apparatus.
“Everything that is one ton or less we contract out…but we still have a lot of work,” Weeks said, noting that everything else is done in house.
Unlike some departments, Los Angeles County is not experiencing headaches with emissions systems and he can attribute it to a decision the department made that has paid off. “We opted for smaller-displacement engines with higher horsepower,” Weeks said, explaining that the engines run faster and at higher temperatures, which makes for fewer regenerations and happier emissions systems. “We’ve had no major, complex problems.”
Weeks is not a fan of multiplexing for apparatus and he avoids it whenever possible. Specifications for new apparatus specifically say no multiplex electrical systems, except where absolutely necessary for engine and transmission controls.
“We need to be able to diagnose and repair apparatus that may be three or four miles off the highway,” Weeks said, noting that some wildland strike teams travel up to 500 miles, a long way from their home repair shop, to fight wildland fires.
With the ability to go out to bid for as many as 15 apparatus at a time, Weeks said he has not had problems with manufacturers balking at the no-multiplexing request. “We have a little more leverage than most,” he said.
Another specification Weeks requires on apparatus is complete accessibility to all parts that may need serving or replacing. He does not want to spend a half-day in the shop taking off panels and components just to fix a minor issue. “If an item is not completely accessible, it doesn’t belong on our trucks,” he said.
Getting the right apparatus up front can save a lot of maintenance down the road, Weeks said. That is why he has been working on ways to reduce the amount of heat generated by apparatus, rather than worrying about heat rejection. He has noticed that cabs are getting bigger on apparatus with little or no room going to the occupants. Rather, it is going for bigger radiators and heat-mitigation systems.
“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.