Wireless Fire Truck Monitoring Enhances Maintenance

FirePrograms' Link2 wireless maintenance monitoring and recording module.
FirePrograms’ Link2 wireless maintenance monitoring and recording module.
Weldon's D-Tek 6161 transmitter sends data to a 6162 receiver in a station.
Weldon’s D-Tek 6161 transmitter, when mounted on a fire truck, sends data to a 6162 receiver in a station.

Without functioning apparatus, a fire department is little more than a bucket brigade. This is the reason ongoing engine and system maintenance is a must – and anything that makes maintenance more proactive and timely is a boon.

This is where wireless technology can help. It can forge the final link between a truck’s onboard monitoring systems and the people who need the systems’ data to keep the apparatus in optimal condition. Two new products that do the job are FirePrograms Software’s Link2 module and Weldon’s D-Tek. (Weldon is a division of Akron Brass.)

The idea behind FirePrograms’ Link2 module is simple: First, plug a wirelessly-enabled Link2 maintenance monitoring and recording module into a fire truck’s driveline data bus. Once in place, the Link2 maintenance monitoring and recording module can measure and store performance information and alerts while the truck is in use.

Commercial engines have been equipped with basic monitoring systems for years. Since 2009, the National Fire Protection Association’s 1901 apparatus standard has required vehicle data recorders (VDRs) to be installed in fire apparatus to record operational data, plus seat belt latch switch status.

“The Link2 module connects to the truck’s engine control unit via the industry standard J1939 controller-area network (CAN) data bus,” said Chris Magiera, FirePrograms’ vice president of sales. “In this location, it has access to information regarding the engine, transmission and [anti-lock braking system] status.”

J1939 is a communication protocol standard used with all major engine, transmission and anti-lock braking systems to communicate data across the vehicle drivetrain, electrical and control systems.

“The Link2 module can also be used to monitor the truck’s speed, fuel usage and deployment at the scene,” Magiera said. “We can keep an eye on pump cycles, apparatus performance, and even record access and operation of peripheral equipment such as aerial devices, generators and drug boxes.”

The Link2 module keeps an eye out for engine faults and warnings as well as displays information from the engine control unit.

Once the Link2 module-enabled truck is within range of a Wi-Fi connection, the Link2 uploads all the data to FireProgram’s Web site, where it can be accessed by the department. The data can be retrieved using a PC, smartphone or wirelesslyconnected tablet via FirePrograms’ Link2 password-protected customer Web site.

If there’s a problem with a particular engine, the system is configured to send out advisory and warning e-mail messages to the appropriate person, such as the department’s maintenance officer or a group of individuals or the local service center.

“In this way, maintenance issues can be addressed before they lead to apparatus component failure,” Magiera said. “You can also configure your Link2 Web profile to alert you when a truck is approaching certain maintenance intervals, such as tire rotations or oil changes. This allows you to manage your fleet more effectively and ensures that required maintenance is done on time.”

Weldon’s D-Tek is based on a different wireless model than FirePrograms’ Link2. In this instance, it is a Weldon 6161 transmitter module (with antenna attached) that is connected to the truck’s monitoring system.

“Besides monitoring engine and transmission sensors, the D-Tek also automatically keeps an eye on the truck’s mileage, fuel used, fuel remaining, and tire pressure,” said Peter Luhrs, Weldon’s director of multiplex solutions.

Instead of using any available Wi-Fi link, the D-Tek system relies on specific 6162 receiver modules, with each connected to a fire department computer. “When the truck returns to its station, the 6161 automatically detects the 6162’s presence via Wi-Fi, and uploads all of its information,” Luhrs said. “Assuming that this computer is on the network – which is typically the case these days – this information is then transmitted in text form to the appropriate maintenance people. It can also be used with our D-Tek Tracker software to do a vehicle-by-vehicle review of your fleet, to see at a glance how your apparatus is doing.”

In deciding whether to buy a Link2 or D-Tek wireless monitoring system, procurement officers should review both closely for the best fit functionally as well as economically. They should also contact manufacturers to determine if their trucks are new enough to use these systems.

The choice between a Web-based or PC-based model is not a slam dunk. The methodology to access vehicle information differs with each system, but the overall concept of wireless-enabled maintenance monitoring makes very good sense.

Today’s vehicles are already collecting a wealth of diagnostic and historical performance information. Transcribing this information manually and then inputting it into the maintenance section’s server is as logical as writing responses to e-mail by hand and then having someone else input them into a computer.

Unfortunately, even today, Luhrs said, “Many departments manually gather data and enter it into a log. Their database is typically only updated during maintenance.”

Eliminating the manual step is not just a matter of efficiency. Sending diagnostic data directly into a computer system reduces chances for human errors and omissions, in addition to saving time.

For departments that opt to move to a wireless-based system, manufacturers suggest the new system should run in parallel with the existing paper-based model for six months to ensure an orderly transition. It also allows time for bugs to be worked out and for staff to become familiar with the new system.

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