Tips for Apparatus Maintenance

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Make sure you inspect the apparatus thoroughly, and identify what's missing, broken or out of place at the beginning of each shift. Photo Glen Ellman

Preserving the quality of our apparatus is vital to our success on the fireground and, unlike other tasks that can be scheduled for once a week, month or year, apparatus checks must be performed daily. After all, taking the time to properly inspect and maintain our apparatus will not only extend its life—something we’re all concerned about these days—but it’s also essential to your safety and the safety of your crew, department and community.

Following is useful information to help guide you in your daily apparatus inspections.

1. Start Early

As the apparatus operator, there’s no task more important than preparing for your first response of the day; it’s your primary responsibility for the safety of your crew and the community to ensure the operational readiness of the apparatus. Many city and fire department equipment-repair facilities are only open during normal business hours, so it’s best to identify problems as early in the day as possible.

2. Communicate with fire department personnel

Talk to members of the shift that you’re relieving or to other members of the department who operate the apparatus. Take 5 minutes to discuss the apparatus, its general condition and items that need repair or attention. Also, find out what types of incidents the apparatus responded to during the previous shift and concentrate your efforts on parts that were used.

3. Take ownership of the apparatus

Treat it like you would treat your personal vehicle. Many firefighters treat their apparatus like it’s a rental car—just drive it for the day and leave the problems for someone else to worry about. Taking ownership means always working to fix that long list of little issues that every apparatus has, whether it’s tightening the screws in the door panel or taking everything out of the compartment to clean it. Deputy Chief Jerry Allison, who retired from Fort Worth, once said, "You never see a crack crew on a dirty apparatus." Fire companies that take the time and energy to keep their apparatus clean and well maintained will likely extend that same pride and ownership on the fireground.

4. Take care of the little things

ou know the saying, "Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves." If you focus on the simple details of apparatus readiness, you’ll rarely have to deal with a huge problem. Be thorough. Look over the apparatus completely, and identify what’s missing, broken or out of place. Pay special attention to the items that are critical for crew safety, such as functioning seatbelts and cab door handles and latches.

5. Use all your resources

Fire apparatus are becoming highly sophisticated. Use all your resources to keep things in working order. Don’t hesitate to call your own department shop personnel, outside vendors and apparatus repair companies. Refer to manuals and CDs supplied with the apparatus, and don’t forget that you can contact the company that built the unit. You can also find lots of great information to help with maintenance issues on the Internet.

6. Apparatus readiness is a process—not an event

Throughout the day and after each incident, take time to look over the apparatus for possible problems and make corrections as needed. If you work for a volunteer department, stop by the station during the week and take a few minutes to look over the trucks. This is especially important if the apparatus responded to a fire with other members.

7. Document your apparatus make-ready actions

Using your standardized check list, take time to document items that you’ve repaired or that need to be looked at by following shifts. Never delay repair issues that relate to crew safety or operational readiness. Treat your apparatus documentation just like an EMS patient report: If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen.

8. Be an expert

There are a lot of people who just sit in the driver’s seat of our apparatus. Take the time and effort to become an expert on your apparatus. Every apparatus has its own little things concerning their operation that can make or break you at the incident scene. Be an expert and know your apparatus.

In Sum

Don’t neglect your apparatus. In fact, do the opposite. Treat it like it’s key to your survival—because it is! Know it inside and out, so you’ll know when something doesn’t seem right. Taking the time to care for your apparatus will save your department money in the long run and protect your safety.

Clarion UX