Inspecting the frame, suspension, driveline, air lines, fluids and
other items while performing preventative maintenance on an
Taxpayers and their children love to see and touch fire trucks, but very few are mindful that these specialized pieces of equipment need the oil changed, transmissions serviced, pumps tested and aerial devices certified.
While those tasks may seem routine, it takes a qualified emergency vehicle technician with special training and certifications to competently perform all the needed maintenance and repairs.
As the old saying goes, “no job is complete until the paperwork is done.” The same is true for all of the maintenance and repairs performed on fire apparatus and equipment. Since vehicles and emergency responses are a significant liability exposure, it is absolutely necessary to accurately document all of the associated activity and create files for each specific unit.
If fleet service staff perform their jobs correctly, then we should dramatically reduce the potential for liability due to accidents and bodily harm from a poor vehicle and equipment maintenance program. The main mission in fleet services is to be an asset to our communities and provide economical and quality service to our customers through excellent apparatus and equipment maintenance and specification programs.
Here is a quick 10-point summary you can use for your apparatus and equipment maintenance program.
1. Maintenance manuals.
South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) keeps two copies of the maintenance, repair, electrical, and parts manuals for every piece of apparatus and equipment owned and operated. SMFR also performs specialized repairs or technical jobs for other departments, and vehicle manuals are requested from individual departments and then returned after the repairs.
Offer to keep copies of the manuals for any vehicles you maintain with the unit number, adding them to your reference library.
The technicians who work on your apparatus and equipment must be qualified. They should bring an extensive amount of experience from their previous jobs, along with vocational school degrees and factory training. They should also possess the appropriate certifications per the National Fire Protection Association 1071 Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications, 2006 edition.
Specific apparatus and equipment require precise tasks that require specific qualifications. Be sure your fleet shop has personnel qualified in all tangible areas of NFPA standards, as well as state and federal regulations, in addition to manufacturer-specific training and education. This puts your shop in an excellent defensible position for not only general work, but also specific repairs and testing.
3. Preventive maintenance.
While there is no guarantee that a truck will start every time the tones sound, a good preventive maintenance program is the best way to avoid costly repairs and keep all apparatus and equipment in a state of response readiness. There are several different programs that may be used, based on the individual piece of equipment, activity and geographic location, as recommended by the NFPA 1911 Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Fire Apparatus, 2007 edition.
Administrative and ambulance vehicle maintenance should be based on miles and rotated for preventive maintenance on a 3,000 to 5,000-mile interval. Schedule your pumpers, towers, heavy rescues, hazmat units and quints for preventative maintenance on quarterly intervals based on the level of call activity and training time. Wildland units, tenders and most reserves may be scheduled for maintenance once a year, based on the location and activity of the unit.
Use a software component (such as FASTER PM Manager) that will allow internal tracking all of the preventive maintenance, annual testing and inspections and required certifications and licensing for each class code that corresponds to the type of apparatus and equipment.
4. Serious problems.
If you find one, immediately remove the unit from service and correct the problem. By definition, these will be items listed in the out-of-service criteria in NFPA 1911, Chapter 6, items serious enough to jeopardize the safety and performance of the apparatus or equipment.
If the unit belongs to an outside department, the department must be contacted for approval before starting the repair or ordering parts. Be prepared to provide detailed estimates upon request, and emphasize it is only an estimate.
During large jobs, hidden damage or obsolete parts are almost always the norm. While you can’t control the cost or the availability of parts from a vendor, you may be able to provide different options to place the unit back at the station as soon as possible. Be careful not to take advantage of your customers by selling services or parts that are not needed.
5. Maintenance records.
This is where a fleet tracking software component helps to keep detailed records on every piece of equipment. These maintenance records should include written details of requests for maintenance or repairs, dates, descriptions of work performed, parts issued, notes, technician names, pump test forms and aerial inspection and certification forms.
Detailed records are important for defending a department in the event of an accident and making claims on warranties. Providing detailed records of apparatus and equipment can even enhance the value when a unit is being sold.
One thing I have learned from manufacturer practices and the legal system is that if it is not documented, it didn’t happen. Without proof that maintenance was performed, a warranty claim may not be honored and a department’s liability exposure is increased.
6. Pump Testing.
Once a year every unit with a fire pump must be scheduled for an annual pump test, per the most current NFPA 1911 standard, which requires annual testing for fire pumps, aerial devices, hose, ground ladders, low voltage systems, line voltage systems and vehicle weight.
ISO, formerly known as the Insurance Services Office, awards points for pump testing while computing fire suppression ratings for communities. Insurance companies use ISO ratings to set insurance premiums for residential and commercial property.
Fire pumps on new apparatus should be acceptance tested upon delivery to a department. An extensive on-site test will demonstrate the true performance of the fire pump and related systems. Pump tests should also be performed any time there are major repairs to the fire pump, pump transmission, truck transmission or power plant.
Place electronic copies of tests in individual apparatus files and forward copies to respective departments.
Only trained and certified emergency vehicle technicians (EVTs) and parts personnel should perform the work in your facility. A quality maintenance program includes engineers or driver/operators assigned to apparatus as required in the NFPA 1002 Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, but firefighters should not be used to perform maintenance and repairs.
A good engineer with an intimate knowledge of the apparatus and equipment is the first line of defense. A good engineer will perform comprehensive vehicle checks and accurately report deficiencies. It is crucial that a good working relationship be established with line personnel to keep the fleet response ready.
8. Apparatus specifications.
Having a mechanic participate on your apparatus specification committee can actually eliminate apparatus and maintenance problems. Next to the engineer, the mechanic is the person most intimate with the apparatus and its related systems and may have had factory training unavailable to the engineer.
The apparatus specification committee is not just for a select few. Periodically an apparatus survey can be distributed within your department. Even the receptionist may have a valuable observation about a piece of equipment.
9. Replacement schedule.
Regular apparatus and equipment replacement plays a key role in controlling maintenance costs and equipment downtime. The old days of keeping apparatus around for 25-plus years are quickly disappearing.
Three elements should support your replacement program: the operational life, the cost life and the technological life.
The operational life has to do with the function of the unit in your department: whether it can carry all of the equipment you need; whether it still fits in the station; whether it still fulfills the mission for which it was designed.
The cost life tracks maintenance and repairs over the life of the vehicle and is computed into a cost per mile or cost per hour average. Look at whether the unit costs too much to maintain, whether its downtime has become excessive and whether you can still get parts.
Finally, assess whether you are taking full advantage of the technology and safety features available on newer apparatus and equipment, such as anti-lock braking systems, lighting packages, electronic pressure governors and air ride suspensions.
The program we use targets fire apparatus for 12 years front line and three years reserve status. Medic or rescue/ambulance units are programmed for five years front line and two years in reserve. Staff and support vehicles are programmed for six to seven years or 80,000 miles or greater.
While these are internal goals, the program is always monitored and scrutinized for accuracy. Some units may not make the target replacement goal, while others may go many years beyond the intended replacement date.
Whatever your call volume, geographical location, operational plan or type of apparatus, you should have an apparatus and equipment replacement program. It is a good tool to help manage your fleet and your department goals.
10. Annual budget.
If you are not budgeting for maintenance and repairs then you are only fooling yourself. You will soon end up in crisis mode.
Fire apparatus and equipment represent a significant investment that the community entrusts you to preserve. They are not cheap, and neither are their maintenance and repair costs. Dollars devoted to a preventative maintenance program will always be money wisely spent, reducing more expensive repair costs.
Remember the lesson in that FRAM filter television commercial, “Pay me now or pay me later.”
A good preventive maintenance program is also a total risk management program, protecting the people in your department, the community you serve and the equipment purchased with tax dollars.
These 10 points are a great way to look at your vehicle maintenance program, but they are only a start. The main message is that a comprehensive maintenance program is important to the vitality and longevity of the fire service.
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.