When you take your apparatus to your department’s maintenance facility, whether in-house or contracted, a good professional working relationship goes a long way. There is a lot to be gained and learned when you treat the personnel that work on your trucks with respect and dignity. They have a tough enough job as it is day in and day out.
Giving recognition every now and then can help build those mutual bonds. We should not take it for granted that we have carte blanche and can go wherever we want or take items off the truck while it is being repaired without first letting them know. They respect that we go into burning buildings; we should respect that this is their work area and rules apply. There are restrictions about certain areas that you should not enter due to safety regulations.
One of the most fascinating experiences at the fire maintenance facility was looking at all the damaged parts. When you are curious and inquire, the mechanics will oblige and take the time to explain to you what you are looking at and what caused the malfunction. To take it even further, you can learn how to prevent a repeat occurrence if it was not due to normal wear and tear.
It also helped me to identify the different components and see the “internal” workings of their operation and function. On several occasions, the mechanics also did not understand how an item functions and sought advice or knowledge from you (the driver’s standpoint) so they can see it from your perspective. There were many times I was asked to show a newly arrived mechanic, who was not familiar with fire apparatus, how to place a truck into pump gear, troubleshoot it if it wasn’t going into pump or road gear, use the mechanical relief valve and determine if it was functioning properly, etc.
Without interfering too much, I would like to stay by the truck while the technician was making the necessary repairs. We would have candid conversation, whether related to the repair or not, about something job or department related. There was always something new to learn in the process. Many times, you would find out that it is so simple that you do the repair yourself, within reason—like replacing a burned-out light bulb.
Some of the items that I saw included:
- Broken Impellers in the Centrifugal Pump
- Glazed Disc Brake Rotors
- Burned-up Brake Calipers
- Broken Splines from Different Driveline Components
- Broken Steering Arms
- Worn out Ball Gate Valves
- Foreign Material Removed from the Pump (Rocks, Bolts, Other Metal Debris)
- Leaking Water Tanks and their Piping
- Contaminated Differentials (water)
- Troubleshooting of Multiplex Systems
- Electrical Troubleshooting
- Damaged Transmissions and Components
- Bent Ladders on Aerial Devices
- Hydraulic Leaks on Aerial Devices
When we have a better understanding about the machines we operate, we gain knowledge about how to take care of them better. Plus, we understand and picture the components in motion and the theory behind them to be able to determine what the problem is if it begins to malfunction and possibly take corrective action to prevent further, expensive damage.
The other advantage is we can paint a clear picture for the mechanic, for example via a phone call, since we know the name of the components and the “jargon.” This way, they can respond with the best repair tools and items if the truck is stranded and it can be repaired in the field.
Some pretty incredible things can occur—to the point where you would ask yourself, “How in the world could that have happened?” At some point in a person’s career, they will experience a unique event that you thought could never happen! The classic is the bed mattress and all the coils wrapped up on the drive shaft of the truck. How can you not see a mattress in the middle of the road? To deal with the mangled mess, the mechanics must figure out how to get it untangled!
The one main thing that we can take out of this is the knowledge we gain. This is not only for our benefit in making us better at our job assignment, but to pass on the training knowledge to new and experienced drivers. Materials, components, electronics are always improving. The trucks are becoming more complex day by day. Compared to years ago, we are carrying more equipment in longer, taller, and wider vehicles. Keeping in tune with the maintenance, talking to the technicians and/or mechanics, being aware of the possible malfunctions, knowing the terminology makes us all do a better job so we can stay at the top of our game!
FRANK R. MYERS is a retired Lieutenant with the City of Miami (FL) Fire Rescue, where he served 32 years. Before his retirement, he served at the Training Center for six years as the Driver Engineer Instructor. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.com, a technology service that helps fire departments across the country automate their apparatus, equipment and inventory checks.