Taking Apparatus Inspection to a New Level

Alan M. Petrillo

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, (2012 ed.) might be one of the most important documents a fire department has on its shelf of rules, regulations, and operating procedures, according to one apparatus inspection specialist. NFPA 1911 (2007 ed.) combined for the first time NFPA 1911, Standard for Service Tests of Fire Pump Systems on Fire Apparatus; NFPA 1914, Standard for Testing Fire Department Aerial Devices; and NFPA 1915, Standard for Fire Apparatus Preventive Maintenance Program. According to NFPA 1911’s origin and development section, the organization changed “service test” to “performance test,” and new testing requirements were added for the apparatus chassis, low-voltage electrical system, foam proportioning system, compressed air foam system (CAFS), line voltage electrical, and breathing air compressor system.

Chapter one’s sentence 1.1.1 states that “This standard defines the minimum requirements for establishing an inspection, maintenance, and testing program for in-service fire apparatus.” Sentence 1.2.1 states that, “The primary purpose of this standard is to provide requirements for an inspection, maintenance, and testing program that will ensure that in-service fire apparatus are serviced and maintained to keep them in safe operating condition and ready for response at all times.” One company at the forefront of providing inspection programs that comply with NFPA 1911 is Sunbelt Fire, based in Fairhope, Alabama.

Neil Clark, service sales manager for Sunbelt Fire, says that although chiefs aren’t stampeding to his door to hand him orders for apparatus testing, “It’s interesting to note that we’re getting business from all types of fire departments. There are departments that see the value in this testing, and we are performing inspections and pump tests to a constantly increasing number of customers.”

Apparatus inspectors at Sunbelt Fire's Alabama service shop perform inspections on a number of rigs

1) Apparatus inspectors at Sunbelt Fire’s Alabama service shop
perform inspections on a number of rigs, including an aerial ladder
from the Natchez (MS) Fire Department and pumpers from the
Madison (MS) Fire Department and Foley (AL) Fire Department.
(Photo courtesy of Sunbelt Fire.)


Apparatus Service Provider

Sunbelt Fire provides NFPA 1911 inspections, pump testing, and preventive maintenance to departments from those with a couple of vehicles to others with more than 50 pieces of apparatus, Clark notes, and from rural volunteer departments to some of the largest municipalities in its coverage area. “We do everything that can be done on a fire truck,” Clark points out. “We have seven road service technicians, portable pump test trailers, a full shop, and two satellite service operations.”

Clark notes that all in-service fire apparatus must meet NFPA 1911’s requirements. “We’ve spent a lot of time making sure that what we offer meets or exceeds the requirements of NFPA 1911,” he says.

Stephen Dean, chief of the Mobile (AL) Fire-Rescue Department, says maintenance “of our rolling stock is important in that it must meet all the standards and not have any safety issues either with the public who shares the road with us or our personnel on those vehicles.”

Dean says that his department uses Sunbelt Fire to perform inspections, pump tests, and other maintenance on its fleet of 20 first-line pumpers, seven aerials, 11 front-line ambulances, and a reserve fleet of vehicles for each of those categories. The Mobile Fire-Rescue Department has 497 firefighters that operate out of 20 fire stations.

The Mobile (AL) Fire-Rescue Department contracts with Sunbelt Fire

(2) The Mobile (AL) Fire-Rescue Department contracts with Sunbelt
Fire to inspect its pumpers and ambulances on an annual basis.
(Photos courtesy of Mobile Fire-Rescue Department.)


“We’ve looked for the way we can ensure we have the best maintenance program that we can offer on our apparatus,” Dean says. “Our aerials have been certified every year by a third party for safety of our ladders, and now that the NFPA standard applies to engines and ambulances, we instituted a program with Sunbelt to run our fleet through its compliance program on an annual basis.”

Dean continues, “With this program, we felt it reduced the maintenance costs on our vehicles and ensures yearly that we know everything that’s done to each vehicle, every part that was changed, why it was changed, and the technician who changed it. We have it in our computer database and can correlate that information with the calls that we track by vehicle.”

Dean adds that Mobile’s reserve fleet is checked by Sunbelt Fire the same as its first-line rigs. “Once a year we know that each vehicle is compliant with the standard,” he says. “Then our fleet is to the point where we don’t have to rotate people from primary vehicles to reserve vehicles as often.”

Realized Benefits

Dean says that Mobile Fire-Rescue started its maintenance and inspection program with Sunbelt six months ago, but already it has proven to result in less downtime for fire crews and better service for the public. “The more you can keep your vehicles on the street and operating, the better things are for the public, as well as your firefighting crews.”

He adds that the department’s goal is to have one vehicle inspected and maintained every three days during the program’s inspection period. “The first time through the program, we expect there will be more maintenance issues to be taken care of than when we do a second pass,” Dean observes.

The Fairhope (AL) Volunteer Fire Department has used Sunbelt Fire to inspect and test its vehicles

(3) The Fairhope (AL) Volunteer Fire Department has used Sunbelt
Fire to inspect and test its vehicles, shown here during a recent onsite
testing program. (Photo courtesy of Sunbelt Fire.)


Dean says that his fleet managers are trying to identify certain issues that are the same every time a vehicle comes into the station with a problem. By focusing on those issues, he can fix the problems before the truck goes to be evaluated by Sunbelt, which means a shorter turnaround time. “I think it will take a little bit of time for us to get the system down,” he says.

Chris Free, chief of the Falkville (AL) Volunteer Fire Department, has three pumpers in two stations and staffs them with 25 volunteer firefighters. The department responds to approximately 700 calls a year and covers about 35 square miles, including a United States interstate and two major state highways.

“Our apparatus is very busy on the main thoroughfares of I-65 and Highway 31 and 55,” Free says. “We decided to have Sunbelt Fire do our NFPA inspections to be sure the apparatus is kept in the best repair. We wanted to catch things before they became major problems.”

Free notes that as a volunteer department, Falkville has limited funding and “doesn’t have the opportunity to buy a new apparatus every five years.” He points out that the department’s maintenance costs have gone down under the Sunbelt Fire program. “This is our second year under this program, and we’ve seen our maintenance costs reduced in each of them,” Free says.

The Falkville (AL) Volunteer Fire Department has found

(4) The Falkville (AL) Volunteer Fire Department has found
maintenance cost savings for the three pumpers in its fleet as a result
of its annual NFPA 1911 inspection program. (Photo courtesy of
Falkville Volunteer Fire Department.)


He adds that Falkville has another firm perform its pump testing certification each year but favors Sunbelt for maintenance and inspection “because they come to us and do the work onsite, meaning we don’t have to take a piece of apparatus out of our service area.”

Dean notes that because the NFPA standard is relatively new in terms of applying to pumpers and ambulances, fire departments are still in a learning phase. “We feel this will really help us on our maintenance costs and make a much more effective system,” Dean says. “And it will help us in keeping people in front-line vehicles on a daily basis and not have to rely so much on our reserve fleet.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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