Cooperative Maintenance Has Many Advantages

Gavin Smith, a technician with the South Metro (Colo.) Fire Rescue Authority fleet services bureau, installs shelves on a 75-foot Pierce aerial.
Gavin Smith, a technician with the South Metro (Colo.) Fire Rescue Authority fleet services bureau, installs shelves on a 75-foot Pierce aerial.
The South Metro (Colo.) Fire Rescue Authority's fleet services facility has 5,000 square feet of service bays and a 4,500-square-foot warehouse.
The South Metro (Colo.) Fire Rescue Authority's fleet services facility has 5,000 square feet of service bays and a 4,500-square-foot warehouse.

When someone calls 911, minutes count. There is no time for engine trouble, dead batteries, flat tires or leaky water pumps. Lives and property may be lost if firefighters and life-saving equipment do not arrive quickly.

While most municipal fleet maintenance facilities operate at the direction of an individual city or town, it is possible to function as a full-service fire apparatus repair facility, which can have many benefits.

One way is through a cooperative intergovernmental agency (IGA) agreement with other city and county agencies and other towns. This arrangement allows all agencies involved the advantage of volume purchasing discounts, shared expenses for shop tools and utilities and combined resources in one city or county facility.

An example is the South Metro (Colo.) Fire Rescue Authority (SMFRA), which demonstrates the effectiveness of maintaining a variety of apparatus and equipment for multiple agencies.

The Agreement

The authority, which has 17 fire stations and 10 paramedic ambulances, provides services in a section of the Denver metropolitan area covering 176 square miles. It was formed May 1, 2008 by intergovernmental agreement between South Metro Fire Rescue and the Parker Fire Protection District.

That agreement evolved from an expansion of fleet services by the Parker Fire Protection District that began in 1993, when district officials negotiated an IGA with the town of Parker and the Douglas County School District. At the time, each of those entities was considering whether to build new maintenance facilities or expand their existing shops.

A State-Of-The-Art Facility

The 1993 IGA established the Parker Fire District Fleet Services Bureau, and a new maintenance facility was built to serve the three participants, as well as five surrounding fire departments that had expressed a need for quality fire apparatus repair and testing at a fair price.

Parker built a state-of-the-art facility complete with a five-ton overhead crane, a 26,000-gallon fire pump testing facility, an overhead fluid dispensing system, portable truck lifts and oversized bay doors.

The facility was expanded in 2004 when South Metro Fire Rescue, as well as more departments, selected Parker to service their fleets as a way to reduce maintenance costs. The maintenance partnership was one factor that led to last year's agreement creating the South Metro Fire Rescue Authority and is expected to lead to a merger of the two departments.

While usually working behind the scenes, members of the Fleet Services Bureau play a critical role in every emergency incident. Six mechanics, an operations supervisor and two parts buyers are responsible for servicing, maintaining and performing annual testing of all of the authority's 172 emergency response support and staff vehicles, which include fire engines, ladder trucks, ambulances, water tenders and vehicles for Hazmat, dive rescue and wildland operations.

The SMFRA Fleet Services Bureau currently maintains over 100 additional vehicles from 18 other fire departments. This is a win-win situation for both the authority and its customers.

The bureau is able to generate revenue, reducing the cost of its own program by more than 25 percent and saving taxpayers considerable money. The scope of resources has been expanded and a quality fire apparatus repair shop has been provided at a fair price for neighboring departments.

In addition, it is much more efficient for SMFRA to maintain, repair, and test its own vehicles and equipment than to send them to manufacturers or local vendors.

The South Metro Fire Rescue Authority is recognized by the Commission On Fire Accreditation International as a fully-accredited fire agency. A significant performance requirement for accreditation is a comprehensive fleet maintenance program and facility. While the accreditation process was arduous with a need for significant supporting documentation, the Fleet Services Bureau met its demanding goals and objectives.

Six Master Mechanics

The authority employs six master mechanics and one supervisor who are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) as master light/heavy duty truck, automotive, and emergency vehicle technicians. They meet and or exceed the minimum requirements listed in the National Fire Protection Association 1071 Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications, 2006 Edition.

While all mechanics are experienced and journeyman-proficient in the diagnosis of engines, drive trains and electrical systems, special emphasis has been placed on in-depth training specific to fire apparatus and ambulance systems and components. All have a working knowledge of the applicable NFPA standards, state and federal Department of Transportation regulations and federal KKK ambulance specifications.

The authority's Fleet Services Bureau is a full-service maintenance and repair facility that now has 5,000 square feet of service bays and a 4,500-square-foot warehouse for storing everything from 1,000-gallon water tanks and spare tires to emergency medical supplies. Parts buyers keep the warehouse and parts room stocked while keeping track of warranty and product performance.

As the facility and staff grew, the ability to track and process invoices as well as evaluate internal performance became a primary focus. The need for an effective management information system was identified as critical.

 Fleet Services uses a specialized fleet maintenance software system that is formatted for emergency response vehicle applications. The system's capabilities include: vehicle maintenance parts management and inventory; generating work orders documenting maintenance, repairs and testing; assembling work order information into final invoices used to bill internal and external customers; individual vehicle life-cycle cost analysis, a key component used in all vehicle maintenance reports; and scheduled replacement.

The Fleet Services Bureau is very unconventional when contrasted with traditional fire department fleet services. Many components of this bureau are similar to the private sector. It contracts services to outside agencies, shares facilities with other governmental entities and operates as a factory-authorized service center for seven national emergency vehicle and product manufacturers.

Fleet services also performs additional tasks, including specification writing for all engines and aerial apparatus, as well as new apparatus acceptance testing. A mechanic is always on call.

The Fleet Services Bureau regards emergency response vehicle maintenance, repairs and annual testing as effective risk management.

Editor's Note: Brian Brown is bureau chief of fleet services for the South Metro (Colo.) Fire Rescue Authority. He has over 30 years experience in fleet services, with more than 20 years in fire apparatus fleet services, and is a former president of the Colorado Fire Mechanics Association. His certifications include Master Automobile Technician, Master Medium/Heavy-Duty Truck Technician, Emergency Vehicle Fire Apparatus Technician Level I and Level II, Emergency Vehicle Technician Management I, Fire Fighter II, Fire Instructor I and Hazardous Materials Responder Technician.

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