Better Apparatus and Equipment Checks Save Time, Money, and Lives

David Cain

Fire apparatus and equipment have come a long way during the past 100 years. Yet a majority of maintenance inspections are done the same way today as they were at the turn of the past century: on pen-and-paper log sheets.

With so much equipment to look after, logging everything by hand can be time- and labor-intensive and prone to mistakes. There’s a lot to keep track of: daily and weekly preshift truck checks, inventory checks, personal protective gear and self-contained breathing apparatus bottles, hose and pump schedules, preventive maintenance and annual tests, advanced life support and basic life support equipment, drug checks, station supplies, and more. Combine that with all the other responsibilities departments have-running calls, training, maintaining certifications, and so on-and it’s easy to see why streamlining and automating inspections just never seem to be top priorities.

PSTrax automates a fire department’s inspections into a cloud-based digital logbook that can be accessed from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. So, all crews have to do is log in, see which checks are due, and get to work-without having to search for the right log sheet or checklist. (Photo courtesy of PSTrax.)

Although missing a check every now and then may not be the end of the world, major issues can arise if they go unchecked for too long. Every year, people and property are needlessly put in harm’s way when crucial inspections get missed. “In the case of the firefighter, proper maintenance can be the difference between life and death,” says Bob Norton, of the Haddam Volunteer Fire Company, Higganum, Connecticut. “Maintenance is the most lackluster part of the fire service. But outside of training, it may be the most important. Tools are only good if they perform when you need them to. That goes for everything from the gas in a generator to the brakes on a truck.”

Such was the case with the Boston (MA) Fire Department tragedy. In 2009, Lieutenant Kevin Kelley was killed when the fire truck he was riding in crashed into an apartment building. Investigators determined the cause of the accident to be a faulty brake system, which raised serious questions about the adequacy of fire truck maintenance.

Preventing tragedies like the one that occurred in Boston is the reason PSTrax was built. It is designed to make maintenance checks more efficient to combat the hundreds of accidents (or near accidents) that occur each year resulting from poor maintenance inspections.

Automating Inspections

PSTrax automates a fire department’s inspections into a cloud-based digital logbook that can be accessed from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. So, all crews have to do is log in, see which checks are due, and get to work-without having to search for the right log sheet or checklist. It’s built to each department’s specs-its crew, equipment, and maintenance schedules. Each station-specific task, whether it’s a truck check that needs to be done at the beginning of each shift or an aerial load test due every five years, is scheduled, tracked, and documented automatically.

Other features of PSTrax include:

  • Reduced redundancies. The system updates in real time whenever crews perform inspections, across all users. If a crew takes a call in the middle of its checks, PSTrax will pick up right where it left off when it gets back. This eliminates double work and ensures that crews can use their time most efficiently.
  • Instant communication. Anyone can post alerts about out-of-service or malfunctioning equipment to the rest of the station or to specific crew members, officers, or maintenance shops. That way it gets taken care of quickly, and everyone across all shifts is kept in the loop.
  • Training tools. Customized instructions or notes can be added to any maintenance check so everyone knows exactly what to look for when performing inspections. Crews may also link to how-to videos, articles, or other resources from within the system-suitable for individuals who need a quick refresher on how to perform certain tasks before actually doing them.
  • Improved safety. Accidents attributed to poor maintenance inspections compromise the safety and protection of citizens and fire crews. A fail-safe system to monitor these checks can substantially reduce-and even eliminate-such consequences.
  • Lower maintenance costs. Every inspection for each apparatus and piece of equipment is automated, so no check gets overlooked. According to a 2013 report, consistent and complete inspections can extend operating life by up to 30 percent and reduce maintenance costs because issues get taken care of before they become more costly.
  • Bulletproof documentation. Each inspection, whether done last week or last year, is time-stamped, recorded, and saved in PSTrax’s database, making it easy to prove compliance for legal, regulatory, and insurance purposes. Personnel can pull logs and reports based on date, apparatus, equipment, task, or user.
  • Mobile technology. PSTrax can be accessed from any Internet-enabled device, eliminating the shelf space taken up by logbooks and the hard drive space taken up by software. There is nothing to set up and there are no IT hoops to jump through. All information is backed up, encrypted, and transmitted securely and is available only to those with the proper credentials.
  • Complete customization. The program is built to each department’s exact specs whether it has one apparatus or 100. PSTrax takes care of uploading all the data, building the schedules, and so on. All fire crews have to do is log in and go.

Fire departments have embraced sophisticated technology for incident reporting and fire prevention inspections. Now they can for their apparatus and equipment checks as well. Better inspections mean safer equipment and safer crews.

DAVID CAIN is a retired deputy chief with the Boulder (CO) Fire Department, where he served for 34 years. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.

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