Daily Apparatus Checks Are Commitment to Safety

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The driver needs to ensure nozzles are securely fastened to 
the hose and that the nozzle tip is screwed on tight to the rest 
of the nozzle at the shut off.


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While taking photos for this column, a 2.5-gallon water 
extinguisher was discovered to be under-pressurized.

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Firefighters who were instructed to draw the pump panel by 
memory compare their drawings to see who was most accurate. 
This drill generates healthy competition, and crew members 
master their equipment in the process.

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Monitor tips are carried stacked, but need to be physically 
checked that they are snug. Vibration from the apparatus 
can loosen them.

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The junior firefighter made a valiant effort to remember what’s 
in the compartment, but finds out he missed a couple of items. 
He’ll be ready the next time when they may be betting 
ice cream.

The list of assigned duties and responsibilities for the firefighter is endless. There are really important duties and then there are others. The firefighter, however, will never see in writing, “The following duties are not that important.”

Routine maintenance is just that. It quickly becomes mundane, and it’s human nature to start taking shortcuts on boring tasks. Is the captain really going to notice if the oven wasn’t cleaned on Wednesday or that the shower stalls weren’t scrubbed out this week?

Daily apparatus checks are not one of those areas where shortcuts can be taken. That expectation needs to be made clear on the first day a new member reports to the company. Senior drivers must take these checks seriously every day because they’re usually the informal crew leaders and set the tone for what’s really important and what isn’t.

Though the captain is ultimately responsible for the condition of the apparatus, the driver has the primary responsibility. The firefighter who earns the position of driver knows the responsibilities and requires little if any supervision.

The criteria and sequence for apparatus maintenance is already established by detailed fire department check-off lists. However, the steps for developing a positive safety attitude toward apparatus maintenance within the company are not written down. It’s up to the company officer to train every member of the crew to take an active part in apparatus maintenance. Due to vacations, illness or injury, any member can show up for duty and suddenly be required to drive the apparatus. That’s called teamwork.

Establish Expectations

As a company officer, it’s important to clearly establish your expectations with the driver. For example, firefighter accountability name tags and passports should be accurate with the names of the firefighters that are actually on duty, not with names from the shift before. There are certain forms that need to be re-stocked in the cab; EMS forms, personal injury forms, after-the-fire brochures and fire code enforcement forms. The in-cab library has to be accounted for and kept orderly.

Another important expectation is to have the oncoming driver check in with the off-going driver so that critical information about the condition of the apparatus can be verbally exchanged. Unless it involves a safety issue, stay out of the way, don’t micromanage their work and don’t embarrass them in front of the crew. If you want to establish a cultural change or raise the performance bar within your company, start by indoctrinating the newer members of the crew. By coaching and mentoring, you’re helping them establish personal safety incentives that will dictate how they do business, and you’re investing in the future of your fire department.

Here are some areas I’ve worked on with my various crews throughout the years.

The apparatus is our office and our toolbox. This is where we work. How well do your crew members know their toolbox? Take your new firefighters (not the drivers) to a compartment and ask them to list by memory every piece of equipment that’s in that compartment without opening the door. After a few embarrassing attempts, the word will quickly get out and spread among the shifts.

Memory Drills

Another memory drill is having them draw the pump panel. Do your crews know their equipment so well that they can draw it for you? How detailed can they get? Can they draw the correct locations of the intake and discharge ports? Can they draw the correct number of levers and label which lever goes to which discharge port? Can they draw all the buttons and gauges on the pump panel? Work your way up in seniority; before long, every member – even the drivers – will know every piece of equipment in the compartments.

There’s a lot of vibration that takes place while an apparatus is on the road that tends to loosen certain pieces of equipment. All attack lines, whether pre-connected or not, have a nozzle attached to them. It’s not enough to simply see that the nozzle is there and call it good. They have to be physically checked. Ensure the nozzle is firmly attached to the hose and make sure the tip of the nozzle is screwed down tightly at the ball-valve shut off. You don’t want this nozzle breaking apart just before entry. Many departments carry their monitor tips “stacked” at the end of the deck gun. Ensure that all tips are firmly screwed onto the appliance.

Whenever sections of hose are changed out, make sure there is a gasket inside the female swivel of the coupling.

Sometimes the 2.5-gallon pressurized water extinguisher is under-pressurized. Maybe it’s not filled to capacity to make it lighter. Or maybe the crew returns to quarters and forgets to refill it. 

These are unacceptable shortcuts. Make sure your fire extinguishers are properly charged and the gauge is “in the green.”

Sometimes SCBA cylinder bottles don’t get changed out at 0300 hours because the firefighter “didn’t use that much air.”  The same goes for O2 bottles after that 0430 EMS call. Don’t leave the air or oxygen cylinders at borderline levels. Change them out.

Checking SCBA 

If you’re the firefighter who ends up trapped awaiting rescue, you want every breath of fresh air you can get from an SCBA cylinder. Don’t sell your teammates or the patient short because you were lazy. These bottles should be changed upon return to quarters, but if they get overlooked, they have to be caught during the morning equipment checks.

Sometimes the EMS kit doesn’t get re-stocked after the call at zero-dark-30. Having “one more left” isn’t going to help you if you get three more EMS calls in a row without having the ability to re-stock. (Try to administer oxygen without a cannula or a non-rebreathing mask.) Your crews cannot take shortcuts on checking safety equipment just because they are tired and want to get back to the bunkroom. Re-stock to full inventory after every call.

Check the chainsaw. There have been incidents when a firefighter has unknowingly put the chain backwards on the bar. Power equipment should be started at least once a week, but members should be encouraged to start power equipment whenever they feel the need to practice. On/off switches, fuel switches and choke switches can be confusing if you rarely handle power saws. Keep all the switches on chainsaws, rescue saws and positive pressure fans in the “ready” position so at a fire scene the firefighter simply has to give the tools a couple of hefty pulls to start them.

Apparatus floors should be swept and mopped right after the morning apparatus checks. The driver and the crew should then be alert to any puddles forming throughout the shift from water, oil, fuel or other fluids. This may be your only indication that there’s a slow leak in the tank, a loose pump seal or an oil, fuel or hydraulic system leak. Some companies have members wipe down the apparatus before shift change with chamois. Some even go so far as to wipe down the undercarriage. Though this may seem excessive, it gets members under the rigs with creepers and forces them to take notice of the inside tires, belts, bolts and mounting brackets.

Relief Drivers

One of the first things a relief driver should do is pull the rig out on the ramp and put it into pump. Relief drivers need to review in-cab procedures and get tank water in case of an alarm right off the bat. The same goes for an aerial apparatus. The relief driver should pull the truck out on the ramp, properly set the jacks or outriggers and extend and rotate the aerial ladder or platform.
Members who are detailed into the company who are not normally assigned to the aerial apparatus also should review how to assist in setting up the jack pads. The steel plates or jack pads need to be set on the ground before the outriggers are deployed. This helps in stabilizing the aerial.

Morning apparatus checks are more than checking a diesel engine for fuel and oil. Take these checks seriously. Your crew members and their families are counting on you to prepare that apparatus for a safe response. Taking shortcuts can make your rig unsafe on the road and unreliable on the fireground.

Editor’s Note: Raul A. Angulo, a veteran of the Seattle Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is on the Board of Directors for the 
Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

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