Maintenance Prepares Rescuers for Action

Rescue is the art and science of combining talents, techniques, tools and tricks in a safe and expedient manner to solve scenario challenges. A successful rescue entails a blended mix of these factors.

As diligent artists maintain their tools, emergency responders must do likewise. Artists strive for beauty, while rescuers strive for better outcomes in emergencies. For this, our tools must be action-ready.

Tools, equipment and the power plants that run them are extensions of the rescue worker. Some years ago at an extrication competition, one team had a shirt logo depicting a firefighter with a spreader for one arm and a cutter for the other.

The shirt demonstrated how members of that team regarded their tools. There was no separation, just a smooth transition from rescuer to tool. For that kind of smooth operation, tools must be kept in tip-top condition, ready to respond to operator direction at a moment’s notice.

It takes a good mechanic to make your tools sing. But mechanics cannot do the job alone. When you make daily or weekly equipment inspections, take time to start and run all power tools.

Run them to warm-up level. Run them up and down their power bands so they are not just loading up with carbon. Connect your hydraulic tools and put them through a full operation cycle. Give your generator a load, testing lights and power tools.

When inspecting and putting tools through their paces, always protect yourself. At a minimum, wear hand and eye protection. The National Firefighter Near-Miss Reporting System has at least two reports of tool failures during routine equipment exercise. In both cases the firefighters were unhurt because they wore full PPE.

Don’t forget about battery-operated tools. These also need checking. Rotate batteries periodically and fully cycle and condition them according to manufacturer specs.


Such routine inspections may seem monotonous, but don’t lose sight of what they bring. First is a state of preparedness. When the bell hits or the tones drop or the siren sounds – when lives are in the balance – your tools need to be ready.

Routine checks identify problems early so preventive maintenance can fix them. Regular inspections, which include start-up, warm-up and run-up-and-down, ensure tools are ready.

Equally important is having a state of intimacy with your tools, a familiarity that can and does makes critical operations routine. Regular maintenance with frequent hands-on use of tools, throttles, chokes, hydraulic valves, circuit breakers and controls makes operating them become second- nature. You know instinctively where to go and what to dohow to respond when emergency strikes.when it is time to make things happen.

Another benefit of maintenance is that Maintenance tunes your senses become tuned to your tools. EOften your equipment will goften gives a you warning clues to changes well before itdrastically breaks. Attentive listening Hearing is one sense that can provides a lot of clues. Your awareness of how equipment should sound when things are going right and when they are not a step heightens your preparedness for the race to improve the outcomes for t any emergencyhe people you are.

All equipment should be on a scheduled preventive maintenance program. Just as you provide apparatus oil changes and annual inspections, be that diligent with your tools and small engine equipment.

Don’t forget your seasonal equipment, like boats and snowmobiles. Store them properly at season’s end, stabilizing fuel and changing the oil. Elevate and de-tension the snowmobile track. Drain watercraft to prevent frozen standing water damage over the cold months. As part of routine maintenance, have qualified technicians inspect seasonal equipment.

Small Engine Mechanic

Consider adding a small engine mechanic to your Urban Search and Rescue team. When USAR teams are called into service, typical infrastructures are marginal or missing. Teams must be self-sustaining.

A small engine mechanic can fine-tune and maintain USAR equipment, plus set up and maintain a fuel depot. This assures reliable access to the power and tools for the job.

USAR tools may be in storage for some time, affecting small engine operation. Make sure your team is ready, with the proper personnel looking after equipment.

The equipment operator is key to successful rescue operations. But a polished key will not work in a rusted lock. Commit to keeping your tools in top shape. Inspection, familiarity and qualified preventive maintenance means you and your tools will be performance-ready whenever emergency strikes.

Editor’s Note: Carl D. Avery is 37-year member of the fire service, originally serving in the Cleveland, N.Y., Volunteer Fire Department and now program coordinator at the York County Fire School in Pennsylvania. Certified as a Fire Instructor II, Avery is a member of the Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee United States of America and is a National Extrication Judge.

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