Performing a Fleet Audit Survey

Brian Brown

Although departments across the country are being forced to do more with less, fleet maintenance operations can only cut back so much before you start to see the effects on quality of service and customer relations. Thus, you should periodically perform an internal fleet audit/survey to appraise the current fleet maintenance operations business plan, because all departments have multitier relationships in the organization that affect all divisions in the department. The best way to approach those relationships as well as their fleet operations is with trust and mutual respect. Open and honest communications give the customers (both internal and external) a unique opportunity to understand the end users’ needs. This allows fire departments to develop various fleet services and support programs that best suit their needs. In addition, providing feedback for the fleet staff creates a sense of ownership within the business plan through problem solving, quality support programs, and the highest possible vehicle availability at the lowest life cycle cost.

Economic Impacts

Material costs have risen dramatically while most municipalities, counties, and special district fire department revenues have drastically declined. Take my department’s revenue, for instance. Ninety percent of our revenue is from single-family homes and the commercial property tax. The other 10 percent comes from vehicle ownership tax from one of the two counties we serve. Even the county clerk’s offices have seen a drastic reduction in license plate renewals because people don’t have the money to renew their vehicle license plates, which means there are also a lot of uninsured drivers.

Consider the surging cost of fuel. Most fleet operations I have spoken with looked at adding anywhere from a 30 to 60 percent increase for fuel cost for 2013. Now relate this to the increased cost of petroleum products-i.e., engine oil, transmission fluid, grease, tires, oil seals, spray lubricants, and so on. Fire department fleets have also been hit with increased manufacturer and factory costs because of an average three percent annual increase in the manufacturers’ benefits for their employees, increased material costs, and more.

Life Cycle Analysis

A newer fleet has less maintenance and is more fuel-efficient to operate. The problem lies in the capital portion of the budget. Is there any money to purchase new apparatus? If so, which ones get replaced? That’s the reason it’s imperative for the individual over the fleet maintenance operation to produce life cycle cost analysis reports for each unit. The analysis would encapsulate several areas, including vehicle age, life-to-date maintenance and repair costs, current miles or hours, overall condition, and whether it still fits operationally (open or closed cab, adequate space for equipment to be carried, reliability on the fireground) in the district in which it responds. Also, include a survey with other “best-in-class” fleet organizations that have comparable fleets in your area.

Take into account factors unique to each fleet organization, such as annual usage levels, types of use, number of backup or reserve units available, weather, and operating terrain. Then calculate this information using a current fleet software system or another process used by American Public Works Association (APWA). A lifecycle cost analysis enables management to create a “score card” that will evaluate new equipment purchases and determine if it is more economical to retain equipment.

Once a fleet manager decides on a process or formula, he can use the information to create the department’s minimum five-year replacement schedule, ultimately moving toward a 10-year replacement schedule that interfaces nicely in an annual budget report and strategic plan. Make sure to review the life cycle cost analysis and replacement schedule and update it at least annually if not more. The fleet replacement schedule is dynamic and always changing because of the preventive maintenance program, operational environment, and technological costs. There are times when departments grow and expand or merge with other departments, which then throws a new twist into the plan. The technical side of the fire apparatus industry is growing tremendously and needs to be injected into the program to fully understand the pros and cons of new vs. older vs. refurbished apparatus.

Be Proactive with PM Program

Being proactive with your preventive maintenance (PM) schedule is the foundation for reducing apparatus downtime and increasing availability. The two most important things to rehab on the fireground are your people and your equipment. If a department takes care of its apparatus by doing daily and weekly truck checks in the firehouse as well as having a proactive fleet PM program, then the apparatus will take care of the department when called to do so. Sounds easy, right? Not so easily done when you look at recent and past accidents that have included improperly maintained fire apparatus. It doesn’t always come down to money as large cities with big fleet operations still have big problems keeping the apparatus safe and response ready.

(1) Ideally a vehicle should be replaced around the time total cost of ownership is at a minimum and before the total cost curve begins to turn upward.

No Shortcuts

Taking shortcuts in any fleet operation is a recipe for disaster. Decision makers who assume cutting replacement purchases is a good way to help balance the budget must understand such cuts usually transfer a portion of the fleet costs from capital to operating. This includes proper training and certifications for the mechanics who are doing the work on the apparatus. It’s only right to have all the proper training and certifications in order for the department’s mechanics as well as any outside vendor that’s being used to avoid any potential liability. Properly trained fleet staff can perform the jobs more quickly and efficiently than those who are not. Yes, proper training costs money and involves mechanics not turning wrenches, but it also means doing the job right the first time and saving money in the long run.

Be prepared to answer some tough questions when evaluating your overall fleet performance. Remember to know your fleet and run it like a business. The more you put into it, the more it responds to cost savings information, reduced downtime, operating cost, and overtime.

BRIAN BROWN is bureau chief of fleet services for the South Metro (CO) Fire Rescue Authority. He has more than 30 years of experience in fleet services, with more than 25 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 level I and level II, firefighter II, fire instructor I, hazardous materials responder technician, and EMT-B.

Vehicle Score Card

• Age: One point for each year based on in-service date.

• Miles/Hours: One point for each 10,000 miles or 250 hours of usage.

• Type of Service: Points assigned as one to five depending on the type of service the vehicle performs. Note: Convert engine hours into miles (30 to 40 miles per engine hour).

• Reliability: One to five points based on the frequency that a vehicle is in the shop for repairs per month. Preventive maintenance work is not included.

• Maintenance and Repair (M&R) Cost: One to five points based on the total life M&R cost, not including accident repairs.

• Condition: One to five points for body condition, rust, interior condition, anticipated repairs, and so on.

• Point Range: Less than 18, Excellent; 18 to 22, Good; 23 to 27, qualifies for replacement; and 28 and above means immediate replacement.

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