The components on fire apparatus can do just about anything a fire department desires (within reason). The parts continue to improve on reliability and ease of operation. Departments should evaluate their own situation to determine which components fit their needs, keeping in mind the types of calls expected, maintenance issues, and the ability to prepare personnel through training.
Reliability should be a major consideration. Regardless of service and warranties, vehicles that are not on the road do no good.
When you buy a car, whether it be from Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, or any of the others, you generally don’t get a choice of the various components in the vehicle. You get the engine, drivetrain, brakes, tires, seats, etc. that come with the vehicle. You are looking at the overall value of the automobile, and the make-up of the parts leads to the reliability, maintenance, and ease of use that you will evaluate. When it comes to fire apparatus, departments draft specifications and generally get to choose the parts they want when ordering custom fire apparatus.
It takes time and research to determine the components going into the next vehicle you purchase. Not only do you get to choose the engine, brakes, transmission, seats, and the like, but you get to pick the fire-service-specific parts. This includes the fire pump, fittings, foam systems, and anything else that makes sense to include. Picking out an SUV from Ford or GM doesn’t involve too much research into the details. Yet, with little experience going into the process, many departments begin to make selections.
I don’t know how much research is done when looking at components by individual departments. Some of the selection is based on the manufacturer’s recommendation. Sometimes it is personal preference. It may be based on what your mechanics want to work on. In the end, I am not sure it makes too much difference. I don’t know if any of the component manufacturers would be around too long if their parts weren’t reliable. Can we say conclusively which engine is best considering cost, reliability, and maintenance? Each has its advantage, but in the end it boils down to what the organization likes. It is not much different than an individual’s preference for a Ford or GM.
When selecting components, reliability may be the most important factor. Trucks that are not in service as much as possible are a liability when it comes to service delivery. Fire trucks cannot be in the shop too often. The reason a vehicle is out of service is irrelevant. Whether directly tied to the end manufacturer or to one of the components, a piece not on the road is not doing the job. Consider items with the most reliability and durability. Those departments that choose to research should look at out-of-service time. This is not easy to find. You will need to contact your network and ask questions. There is no clearinghouse, so you need to ask around. The good news is that there probably are not significant issues, or a company would not last too long.
Ease of Use
Since the reliability of most components will not vary too much, you should next look at ease of use. You will need to provide training to your personnel. As everyone knows, there is more and more to learn in this business. Firefighters must know more initially and must also keep up on the basic knowledge. Ease of use allows for shorter training times, which frees up more of the same for other aspects of the job. If reliability is comparable (and, in most cases, it is), then you need to consider how much time is required to learn about a part and sustain that knowledge.
Another issue to consider is ongoing maintenance. There could be regular and routine items handled by line fire service personnel and other items requiring mechanics with special knowledge and training. Departments that have limited time for all the responsibilities need to consider everything that adds to the maintenance. If there are items that require additional attention, then identify who will be expected to commit the time. Make sure there is someone who can spend the time necessary. In most cases, your best option is to select components that require the least amount of attention. Figuring this out is challenging. You can go by your own experiences and ask around.
Some components require additional training. For example, if you have a foam system installed, there will be things that your firefighters need to know about the operation. The time to learn of the operation is not on the scene of a fire. This means finding the time to be competent so that you can perform whenever the next opportunity arises. Of course, the opportunity may not happen for some time so all members need to maintain their competence by continually training. This is an added job responsibility and necessity. Therefore, it must be added to the regular and routine programs that you have developed. Investigate not only the initial needs but also what may be required to maintain the level of competence your organization requires. Make sure you have the time in your organization’s schedule to do the things that are necessary.
Another issue to consider is a component’s warranty. You should have a clear understanding of how repairs of systems under warranty will be handled. Again, I go back to the automobile. If I have an issue with my car, I go back to the dealer where I made the purchase. It does not matter what the component is. I don’t have to take my vehicle to multiple locations. If it does have to move, then the dealer handles. Contrast that with some fire apparatus where the department is asked to make arrangements for warranty repairs. This may be okay in some situations, but make sure you have a good understanding so you are not taking personnel away from their primary responsibility to take care of someone else’s problem.
Fire trucks are unique vehicles in so many ways. The desire of most fire departments to have custom trucks requires special construction and assembly. This involves specific components that may be independent of the overall vehicle. Departments need to realize the importance of the various components in establishing reliability. It doesn’t matter what causes a truck to be taken out of service. It matters that the issue is quickly resolved to minimize down time. Organizations also need to consider other potential issues created by components independent of the general operation of the truck. Like most everything done in the fire service, those responsible must use due diligence in making choices. Failure to do so could have an adverse effect on services.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.