Preventive Maintenance Protects The Department

Scheduled preventive maintenance (pm) is an effective tool for all fire department fleet maintenance operations.

A well thought out PM program reduces apparatus downtime, service calls and breakdowns. It also reduces mechanic overtime and minimizes lost crew hours. Safe and dependable apparatus performance is reflected in the services provided to the fire crews. In short, a good PM program results in good fleet and line relations.

You can also enhance risk management with your PM program. A well maintained fire truck is a safer vehicle for the passengers as well as the community. In addition to safety, the documentation included in a proactive PM program can be invaluable in the courtroom.

Fleet directors must be able to defend the quality of the services performed if they are ever challenged or if questions are raised by an incident. For example, on Jan. 9 Boston Fire Department's Ladder 26 lost its brakes while approaching an intersection, causing the ladder to crash into the side of a building and taking the life of Lt. Kevin Kelly. It has been documented that the 13-year-old apparatus had past brake problems.

Last month a consultant hired to assess Boston's maintenance practices issued a report highly critical of the fire department for a range of deficiences, among them the lack a professional fleet manager, the lack of professional apparatus maintenance technicians and inadequate documentation of inspections and maintenance and repair work.

If legal action arises out of the accident that took Lt. Kelly's life, Boston's maintenance department will likely be required to demonstrate that the program's documentation meets or exceeds the department's standard operating procedures and a number of National Fire Protection Association standards – the NFPA 1911 standard for inspection, maintenance, testing and retirement of in-service apparatus, the NFPA 1071 standard for emergency vehicle technician professional qualifications and the NFPA 1002 standard for apparatus driver qualifications.

In addition, the department will have to show compliance with apparatus and component manufacturers' recommendations and restrictions, as well as compliance with federal, state, and local regulations.

Remember, if it is not documented, it did not happen. All the fleet maintenance department's records, including work orders, check sheets and inspection forms, are legal documents that dictate the performance and outcome in the courtroom. If a department's vehicle maintenance records are incomplete or nonexistent, there is little chance for the local government to successfully defend itself in court.

Roles and Responsibilities

Engineers must take a role in inspecting the condition of their apparatus. Therefore, it is essential that fleet managers involve both engineers and emergency vehicle technicians (EVTs) in carrying out an effective PM program.

Generally, an engineer on each shift assigned to an apparatus has the responsibility to perform daily and weekly inspections, in addition to minor maintenance items. Ideally, by conducting the daily and weekly checks, the engineer is able to identify changes in the performance of the unit on a day-to-day basis.

While the engineer is the first line of defense in the maintenance program, the EVTs must perform the scheduled PM tasks completely and accurately, being attentive to potential maintenance repair problems that may or may not be related to a scheduled PM.

The engineer should have a daily and weekly checklist to maintain the apparatus in response readiness condition. (See the accompanying example.) When the checksheet is completed at the end of the month, it is the forwarded to the fleet maintenance division and filed in the individual apparatus file.

The Value Of EVTs

A different fleet apparatus checklist is used when scheduled PM is performed. Once the PM and paperwork are complete, the PM checklist is reviewed by the shop supervisor and stored in the apparatus file.

The responsibility of a daily inspection of the brakes belongs to the engineer. The adjustment and replacement of the brakes should be done only by trained and certified EVTs.

Some fleet maintenance divisions look at scheduled PM work by skilled EVTs as a waste of time and resources. But the liability issues preclude the use of lower-level or entry-level technicians for inspecting emergency vehicles that have components that are more complex and have very stringent service demands.

Here is an interesting comparison. A fully loaded commercial tractor trailer weighs 80,000 pounds (GVWR) with 10 brakes. Therefore, each brake must contribute 8,000 pounds of braking force to stop the tractor trailer. The heaviest apparatus in a fire department can weigh 71,000 pounds (GAWR) with only six brakes. But each brake must contribute 12,000 pounds of braking force to stop the fire apparatus. This is a case in point for employing emergency vehicle technicians because they understand the importance of those requirements.

EVT certification is something fleet maintenance departments can use to validate that all apparatus are receiving the best possible inspection, diagnosis, maintenance, repair and testing, all of which are very important when it is time for an ISO evaluation or if an apparatus is involved in an accident.

When emergency response vehicles are inspected and maintained properly by a skilled certified EVT, there is a greater possibility that your fleet maintenance division will save lives.

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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