Getting Under Fire Apparatus

Apparatus inspectors at Sunbelt Fire’s Alabama service shop perform inspectionan inspection on a Foley (AL) Fire Department pumper. (Photo courtesy of Sunbelt Fire.)

By David Cain

All fire departments should perform some sort of routine fire apparatus checks to ensure readiness. This includes the daily, weekly, monthly, and periodic preventive maintenance (PM) checks. PM checks are usually done by the emergency vehicle technician (EVT) and will take the apparatus out of service for a day or two. However, the PM check and the in-station checks should support each other. If done thoroughly and competently, the in-station checks can reduce the downtime of a PM.

Every apparatus needs the tires changed, the chassis lubed, the oil changed, and numerous other tasks that cannot always be done in the station. Most departments have to go outside their system to get these bigger jobs done—something that’s not cheap but necessary. But, too many of them wait for the PM checks to take care of all (or most) maintenance issues at once.

While this approach may work when the problems are minor, it typically costs more than making fixes during the in-station checks. Maintenance that gets put off too long—even on things that seem trivial—tends to turn small problems into bigger, more expensive ones. And, the more problems there are, the longer the truck stays out of service.

With the proper training and practice, firefighters can do a complete vehicle inspection to identify and fix issues early on.

Every firefighter should have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the systems on their truck, and the best place to start is at the bottom. While completing a thorough inspection of the underside of a fire truck will take some training (you may need the help of an experienced engineer or EVT), it is critical to make sure everything is running smoothly. These checks should be done at every shift change and after any long-term engine use. If a daily check is impractical, then a weekly check must be mandatory.

To do a proper under-the-truck inspection, first make sure that the apparatus is secure and that your crews have taken the proper safety measures (eye protection, ear protection, etc.). If the underside is dirty, clean it—it is very difficult to find problems when the belly of the beast is dirty. Finally, begin inspecting. Take a look at the following items, searching for red flags such as deformities, physical damage, loose connections, rust, leaks, loose bolts, damage to lines, and excessive road grime:

  1. Front suspension.
  2. Steering mechanism.
  3. Engine, transmission, and radiator.
  4. Engine and transmission leaks.
  5. Exhaust system.
  6. Pump transmission.
  7. Rear suspension.
  8. Driveline.
  9. Rear axle.
  10. Tire and brake system.

Proper in-station inspections—whether it’s the underside of a truck or the equipment and inventory on it—are critical to keeping your fleet firing on all cylinders. 

DAVID CAIN is a retired deputy chief with the Boulder (CO) Fire Department, where he served for 34 years. He works as a consultant for, a technology service that helps fire departments automate their apparatus, equipment, and inventory checks.

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