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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 is specifying trucks with electromagnetic brake retarders. “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 has not been as easy, Chambers said.
“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 has worked 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.
“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.”
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.
Miller expressed concerns about 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.”