Listen to Your Operators

Chris Mc Loone

It is always nice to bring on new writers with new ideas and different takes on a variety of topics.

Chris Mc Loone

If you’ve ever wanted to talk about your own rigs, lessons you learned from specing them, tricks of the trade when it comes to preventive maintenance, or other topics, don’t be bashful. We are always looking for new contributors.

One new writer, Douglas Pietz, submitted his first article, of what will be several, this month. In it, he covers a lot of areas, but there is one point he makes that I’d like to focus on and expand slightly this month.

It is critically important that when we are specing any fire apparatus that we consult with those who will actually be riding the rig. We should be doing our homework on other points, like how often we fully staff the rig (on the volunteer side) to determine how many seats to plan for; examining equipment usage records so we know what equipment gets the most use, which will help us plan for where to mount it; and, of course, other items like generator use, pump hours, etc. to help us specify those items. But, having the folks who ride the trucks contribute is critical. First, in many instances, if it doesn’t work the way they want it to work, they’ll make the changes themselves to make it more functional. But, more importantly, you are preparing them for future purchases when they are building the rigs.

Just like when you’re riding in the cab, everything you’re doing should be preparing younger firefighters to progress through the ranks to become chauffeurs, senior firefighters, and officers. Soliciting input from the folks riding “in the back” not only provides insight into how they use a rig but also allows you to explain why perhaps some things they want would render the rig noncompliant with National Fire Protection Association 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. It will give them the opportunity to ask questions, and it will allow you to share how your and other firefighters’ experiences are shaping the decisions regarding the next trucks.

Don’t be afraid to admit when you make mistakes. For example, one department on a multi tractor-drawn aerial order took delivery of the first few and discovered that not going with a raised roof in the crew cab area was causing a problem. The department adjusted the specs to address it for the next deliveries.

Getting back to Pietz’s article, he suggests that fire departments ensure a truck committee for a pumper has an operator who knows the pump inside and out—including pump theory. As the spec changes, this individual will help ensure that performance requirements for the rig will be met. Operators know the rigs better than anyone as far as every nuance, every sound, every vibration. They know what works and what doesn’t to ensure the crew “in the back” gets the water it needs to extinguish the fire.

Having served on a few truck committees during my career, I’ve seen it go both ways. I’ve seen operator requests get trumped by operational requirements (the easiest example being whether to spec a single-stage or two-stage pump—and a debate I won’t get into here). But, I’ve also seen it go the other way where patient guidance does lead to the “right” decision—guidance that can only be provided through the wisdom of having “been there.”

Returning to the writer conversation. The mission of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment is to connect you with information on the tools and fire apparatus you use every day to ensure you are doing your job safely. Truly the best way to do this is by learning from each other through thoughtful, constructive discussion. So, jump in and join the discussion—even if the discussion starts with, “I just don’t like these newfangled gizmos on the trucks these days,” or “I just wish the chief would listen to me. This is a really good idea.” I walk the aisles of FDIC International every year and see booth after booth of products brought to market based on a firefighter’s initiative and support from his chief and other firefighters. Maybe yours will be the next one.

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