CHIEF CONCERNS RICHARD MARINUCCI
Next to personnel, fire apparatus are the most costly
expense for a fire department. There is the initial
investment, which can exceed $1,000,000 for a ladder truck;
the cost of maintenance; and the expense of daily use.
Like most everything else in society,
apparatus manufacturers have used emerging technology to improve apparatus operation and reliability. This applies to all
components as well as the cab and chassis. This, along with changes in government
and safety standards, has added to the cost
of vehicles. Although some may dispute the
fact that today’s apparatus have more capabilities and are easier to operate, new vehicles offer much more to fire departments.
Simple yet Complex
Apparatus today are easier to operate for the engineers, but they are by no
means simpler. Anyone who can operate an
automobile can learn the basics of getting
the truck down the road. There is power
steering, an automatic transmission, and
improved braking. Someone can literally get
in the cab, push a few buttons, and get the
vehicle headed toward the emergency. Once
on the scene, after connecting hose, the
operator can push another button or two
and get water flowing. Because of this, it is
tempting to take shortcuts when preparing operators to learn their responsibilities.
But, those serving as fire engine operators
or chauffeurs of any other apparatus must
understand how the vehicles and their components work so they can be prepared when
“Murphy’s Law” strikes.
When a new vehicle arrives, all personnel who may drive and operate it must be
trained. This must go beyond simple driving and pumping. The operators must learn
about all the vehicle’s critical components
and train on their use. They must also learn
how to troubleshoot in case something goes
wrong. There is an expectation that the
vehicles will be reliable and will function
as intended. Although today’s vehicles are
arguably more reliable, the possibility that
something could go wrong always exists.
Proper preparation for this scenario will
minimize the negative consequences when
there is a problem.
Just because operating them is easier
does not diminish the importance of regular
maintenance on all apparatus components
and parts. This must be done in accordance
with manufacturers’ recommendations and
in compliance with applicable standards.
This requires reading manuals and possibly additional training. Someone needs to
know what has to happen and how frequently. There must be good record keeping and
appropriate maintenance scheduling. This
applies to engines, transmissions, chassis components, pumps, electrical systems,
and anything else that is part of critical service delivery.
The most appropriate person for the job
should perform maintenance. Firefighters
should be able to check the oil but probably won’t be able to change the oil. When
a vehicle is delivered, establish a schedule
that clearly identifies the responsibilities
regarding regular preventive measures. As
with most mechanical issues, prevention is
the best choice. There used to be a commercial on television on vehicle maintenance
that had the tag line, “You can pay me now
or pay me later.” This is true for the various
fire apparatus components. Establish your
maintenance plan and stick to it.
Increasing technology use has made it
much more difficult for departments to perform repairs in-house. One could argue that
the improvements have minimized breakdowns so there is less need for in-house
repairs. Although there may have been a
time when firefighters with mechanical
ability could make repairs, today’s components are not as easily fixed when there is a
malfunction. Just as it has become more difficult for “backyard mechanics” to work on
modern automobiles, it is not easy to work
on the components of modern apparatus.
There is a need for specialized training and
tools. As such, departments should perform
more research to specify the most appropriate parts, including reliability and warranty.
Failure to follow manufacturers’ recommendations will lead to costly repairs
but, more importantly, can lead to failure
during critical times during emergencies.
Reliability is essential in the emergen-
cy response business, and risking per-
formance by neglecting maintenance is
unacceptable. Departments must document
their work and ensure that everyone is tak-
ing their responsibility seriously. This is not
the most glamorous part of the job but it is
very important when positive outcomes are
expected. Someone needs to read the man-
uals that come with the vehicle and com-
municate to those who need to know what
items are important.
Operate the Truck
In addition to following manufacturers’ recommendations, organizations need
to exercise the components frequently, especially in cases where the department does not respond to a large volume
of calls requiring specific use of various
components. Engage fire pumps and flow
water regularly. This is a good exercise for
the pumps to make sure they are working
as designed. If a problem is discovered, it
is much better to find out on the training
ground rather than during an emergency.
While operating the pump, it is also important to play “what if.” Operators should walk
through scenarios to project actions should
something not work as intended. Again,
preparation during practice time will allow
engineers to better adjust should something
go wrong during an emergency.
One thing often overlooked in specifying
components is how to handle warranties.
Departments often assume the vehicle manufacturer will take care of the entire vehicle.
However, if this is not specified or not part
of the delivery contract, it may not be the
case. Even if it is part of the agreement, the
manufacturer may have to turn the warran-
ty over to the supplier because of specific
expertise. Regardless, realize that the com-
plexity of components most likely requires
a specialist to repair broken or malfunc-
tioning parts. Also, specialized parts can
be pricey. So if components fail once out of
warranty, replacement or repairs can be
costly. In the end, you want good compo-
nents to improve reliability and minimize
downtime. Most times you get what you
paid for. If you take a shortcut during pur-
chasing, you could spend a lot more later
once the warranty expires.
The components on apparatus are critical for meeting the end goal of providing
quality service. A component failure is just
as devastating as any other part of the truck
with respect to operations. The various
parts of a fire truck are advanced technologically and are more reliable and easier to
use. This does not mean they are foolproof.
Organizations need to put forth effort to
make sure they are as knowledgeable about
the components as they are about any other
aspect of the vehicle. They must not take the
easy route and must do what is necessary
to ensure the reliability and longevity of the
vehicle so it is ready when the need arises. This is another aspect of the fire service
that is getting more complex and adding to
the responsibilities of fire departments and
their personnel. Shirking responsibility in
this area is not acceptable to an organization that strives to provide the best possible
service every time it responds.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive
director of the Fire Department Safety Officers
Association (FDSOA) and chief of the Northville
Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired
as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire
Department in 2008, a position he had held
since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency
Equipment editorial advisory board member, a
past president of the International Association
of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the
Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation.
In 1999, he served as acting chief operating
officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for
seven months. He has a master’s degree and
three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and
administration and has taught extensively.
Reliability is essential;