Apparatus: the shops Christian P. Koop
Preventive maintenance (PM) for emergency response vehicles (ERVs) has always been an extremely important subject, particularly if a department or agency expects to operate ERVs that are reliable and durable and wants the units to make it to their expected lifetimes without catastrophic or costly failures.
Not having a good PM program can wreak havoc on the department’s budget. I know from experience that many departments or users get this; others, in the face of tight budgets, think this is the place to cut costs. In the latter, nothing could be further from the truth, and, in fact, those who cut down or take shortcuts in PM to reduce expenditures will find out that it will actually be more costly in the long run and will expose them to greater liability.
A failure that causes an accident that takes lives or a response time that was lengthened because of a breakdown can result in lawsuits that can be very costly. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) can be held responsible and needs to ensure PM is being carried out according to standards and is adequate. There are agencies that think oil and filter changes are preventive maintenance. All this practice will accomplish is shortening ERV life and reducing reliability and durability. For those who have not kept up with the latest National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards for ERVs, it would behoove them to review the latest revision of NFPA 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Emergency Vehicles, because it has gotten more stringent, particularly for items that will place equipment out of service.
Setting Up the Program
Setting up an adequate PM program for an ERV fleet or just upgrading an existing one to meet standards and a fleet’s changing needs is not that difficult. Most ERV original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) generally provide inspection and service forms at the time of sale or can provide them readily if you contact them. They can also provide driver and technician training, which many departments include in their specifications. NFPA 1911 has various sample PM inspection templates that can be used as is or modified to meet service needs dictated by local ambient temperature, terrain, altitude, and climate that can adversely affect the ERV fleet operation. Regularly inspecting and testing safety items such as brakes, steering systems, emergency lighting, and aerial devices is not only critical—it is required by NFPA 1911.
The driver’s daily inspection is also very important, and AHJs need to ensure these inspections are being conducted correctly and are not pencil whipped. Keep in mind that NFPA 1911 requires that these inspections and records be kept. Drivers’ daily inspections are, in essence, a very important component of the PM program. Statistically, well-trained, conscientious drivers can find 30 percent of problems before they become more costly to repair or cause a breakdown.
There are essentially four ways to schedule ERVs for PM. The most common is by mileage; however, calendar days are also used. Using elapsed engine hours is another method. Probably the most effective is scheduling by measuring fuel consumption. These can also be blended together. For example, we used a combination of hours and miles where I worked, whereby we had established service limits for both the engine hours and mileage. Whichever limit was hit first, whether it was the hours or the mileage, was what dictated that a unit needed to be scheduled for service. This method ensures units are serviced adequately for the particular way they are operated. This is simply because some units, depending on the area they serve, may spend more time on the road vs. idling at emergency scenes, as is common with many ERVs.
Scheduling may be done manually for smaller departments; however, the medium to large departments really need an electronic program and database that can monitor unit mileage, engine hours, or fuel consumed. The best way to get this data is from the fueling site. There are various commercial fleet management systems available that can be tied into engine hours and mileage, support shop work orders, and also include the shop parts inventory. Today many of these systems require no physical input from the driver, which in the past was a source of erroneous information, and are totally automatic as the information is read wirelessly when the unit is being fueled. These systems can be linked to the maintenance databases that can schedule PM and are also used to run specialized reports to keep track of fleet issues, technician labor, parts usage, and track warranties. These modern programs are the fleet manager’s best tool in running a large operation.
Modern motor oil, sometimes referred to as the life blood of the engine, has undergone many changes and improvements. Many of these changes were necessary because of ever-tightening emission requirements by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for gasoline and diesel engines and the need to improve fuel economy. Those responsible for maintenance need to stay on top of the latest changes to choose the correct oil for their specific application. Failure to do so could result in costly failure. It can also result in warranty denial by the OEM if the wrong oil is used. Around 2004, heavy-duty diesels began appearing with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valves, and motor oil manufacturers had to produce oil that could handle the increased soot levels forced into the oil by EGR operation. Beginning in 2007, most diesels were equipped with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) to meet the latest particulate matter requirements the EPA mandated. This also caused changes in oil formulation to keep the DPFs from being damaged by certain oil additives such as phosphorous. Multiviscosity oil has also changed considerably with reductions in the viscosity range to reduce friction and improve fuel mileage. These are just a few of the changes motor oil has undergone to keep up with the needs of the engine manufacturers.
The latest oil standard designation from the American Petroleum Institute (API), which went into effect in late 2016, is API CK-4 and FA-4. CK-4 is backward compatible to replace CJ-4 and is formulated for increased oxidation resistance, aeration control, and improved shear stability. Interestingly and very important is that Ford Motor Company did not approve the CK-4-rated oil for its diesels. Instead, it came up with its own requirements with the Ford WSS-M2C171-F1 specification. Oil blenders are starting to announce they have CK-4 oils that meet Ford’s specification. This is very important for those fleets that have Fords because if they are using motor oil that does not meet Ford specs, they could be damaging their engines and could face warranty claim denial.
Yet another important component of PM is oil filter and fuel filter selection. If you are using aftermarket filters, make sure that they are approved by the OEM and meet its specifications. In case of a failure, you want to be sure you are covered by either the OEM or the filter manufacturer and make sure you have it in writing.
To further ensure the oil you are using is doing its job and the drain interval you are using is adequate, oil analysis is the way to go. I used oil analysis for more than 25 years in the shop I previously managed and found that it was well worth the money and effort. Oil analysis can warn you of engine problems and oil issues and can avert catastrophic engine failure, saving the organization money in the long run. Excessive fuel in the oil and fuel dilution are common issues with diesel engines and, if not detected in time, can lead to lubrication failure issues. This can lead to catastrophic engine failure. In extreme cases, I have even seen it cause engine fires. This happened when the oil level got so high in the crankcase that the crank shaft started whipping it up and forced it out of the dipstick tube and onto hot exhaust, causing it to ignite. The resulting fire damage was extensive and very costly to repair. This is also why it is so important to properly train drivers to inspect their rigs to find problems when they are first developing. A sharp driver should have been able to notice the oil level rising on the dipstick and could have advised the shop and averted unnecessary downtime and costly repairs. Fuel dilution, by the way, is an out-of-service criterion per NFPA 1911.
Brake issues are another critical safety item that drivers/operators should be trained to detect. Brakes not only have to stop the rig adequately, but they also have to be tested yearly and every time they are adjusted or serviced. They must meet stopping distance requirements that depend on gross vehicle weight rating and whether the brakes are hydraulic or air according to NFPA 1911. The best way to test stopping distance on ERVs is by using modern electronic decelerometers. There are several types on the market and are reasonably priced.
For those who may not be aware, the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission (EVTCC) now offers a certification exam that tests the knowledge of drivers/operators being able to perform a daily/weekly check that will satisfy the latest requirements of NFPA 1911. Because of the nature of how ERVs are driven, jumping curbs and other obstacles, the front ends and suspension systems take a beating. Well-trained drivers/operators who can find issues before failure are assets. For example, steering gear mounting bolts, which can sometimes come loose, can be detected. Steering gear mounting bolts, if left loose, can shear off and cause an accident or at the very least cause frame damage and unnecessary downtime. The same goes for suspension components and the chassis.
There are various ERV systems that fall under the out-of-service criteria, each with many specific deficiencies that will place a unit out of service, and all drivers/operators need to be well aware of all of these. These include systems such as driving and crew areas, apparatus body and compartmentation, chassis, axles, steering and suspension, driveline, wheels and tires, engine, engine cooling system, transmission and clutch, low-voltage and line voltage electrical, air brakes, hydraulic brakes, wheel chocks, fire pump, and the aerial device. I recommend that all those responsible for ERV maintenance review their PM programs’ compliance and update them if necessary to meet the latest standards and the particular needs of their fleets. Doing so will help reduce costs; shorten downtime; increase fleet life; and, in today’s highly litigious society, reduce risk and liability.
CHRISTIAN P. KOOP retired as the fleet manager for the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Department after 35 years with Miami-Dade County and four years in the military. He has been involved in the repair and maintenance of autos, military track and wheeled vehicles, heavy equipment, and emergency response vehicles for the past 40 years. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. He has an associate degree from Central Texas College and a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Barry University and has taken course work in basic and digital electronics. He is an ASE-certified master auto/medium/heavy truck technician and master EVT apparatus and ambulance technician. He is a member of the board of directors of EVTCC and FAEVT and a technical committee member for NFPA 1071, Standard for the Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications.