Check your SCBA as part of your personal gear check to make sure that it's functioning properly. Photo Jim McCormack
One of the most important truck company skills—and one that we don’t really think about that often—is the daily check we perform when we show up for work. This simple task is vital to our operations, because successful fireground performance doesn’t start on the fireground; it’s a result of being prepared—and that starts back in the firehouse.
When you respond to any incident, you have to know that you’re ready, your crew is ready and the equipment is ready. Ensuring that everyone and everything is ready goes back to the daily check.
It’s helpful to break the check into categories: personal equipment, equipment you need to perform your job or assignment, equipment you need to perform your most common fireground operations, and all of the other equipment on the rig. Let’s use my daily routine to take a look at the individual areas.
After arriving at work and changing into my work clothes, I go down to the apparatus bay to see if the other guys are there yet. They’re usually going through a similar routine, and it’s time for us to say our hellos and get the day started.
The first check is personal gear. Personal gear refers to your turnouts, SCBA, radio, flashlight and any survival-type gear. Although the SCBA is actually on the truck, checking to make sure that it’s functioning makes this step personal to you. Develop a daily routine so you get in the habit of checking everything, every day.
My first stop is my riding spot where I check the gear of the person I’m relieving to see if it looks like the previous shift had any calls. If they had something, then we know the equipment probably needs to be serviced. (Funny how the other shifts never take care of things the way you like!) While removing the turnouts, helmet and face piece and regulator, I replace the battery in the radio to make sure that it’s working and on the dispatch channel. Now it’s time for my gear.
I put my helmet, flashlight (checked when it comes out of my locker), SCBA face piece and spare gear bag in the seat. I also put a Halligan and roof hook in an easily accessible location. I store the portable radio in my radio strap, and place my jacket, radio strap and hood on the rig’s grab rail (in donning order). I then take the SCBA out of the bracket for a quick check of the harness, cylinder, straps, air, connections and overall appearance. Once it’s checked, I attach the face piece and regulator and turn on the air. I don the mask and draw a couple breaths to make sure it’s working and the heads-up display (HUD) lights are active. When the PASS starts chirping and goes into alarm, I reset it and manually set it off again. I use the regulator to breathe down the remaining air, put the doffing switch and bypass in the correct positions and reset the PASS so it’s off.
Everyone performs the same basic check to identify any problems with personal gear, so by the time I’m done with my check, the rest of the crew is finishing up their own checks.
Assignment Gear & Apparatus Pre-Check
Each of us has a slightly different assignment and tool set, so the next check is based on your individual job. Everyone carries hand tools, so they need to be checked out and placed for easy access. A couple of the assigned tools that require checking include the water can, the hydra-ram and the gas meter. These are usually stowed near the individual to whom they’re assigned, so it’s up to each individual to check their assigned tools. The last (and critical) check at this point is completed by the chauffeur, who needs to make sure that the rig starts!
Once all the personal and assigned gear is ready, you need to check a few of the critical operational items. Although we have a number of power tools and additional equipment on the truck, the two critical tools that we must check before we walk away are the ground ladders and the saws. The other equipment will be checked a bit later when we take the truck out and run it through its paces.
The ladders are pretty easy at this point; all we do is ensure that they’re all there and take a quick look to see if they need cleaning from the night before. The saws also get the once-over for complete operational readiness. Specifically, the saw check involves a visual inspection, fuel and oil checks, chain and blade checks, and then an actual starting of each. We carry two chainsaws and two rotary saws, meaning that all four get started every day (or every third day for us). If a saw needs service, it’s dealt with at this point.
The saws and ground ladders are critical pieces of equipment—we use them on almost every fire. Knowing that not having them ready can slow us down or make us ineffective, we take the time to make sure they’re ready to go before we consider ourselves in-service.
After these checks, we usually head for some coffee and commence the normal firehouse morning banter that gets the day started. There’s more to check, but at this point, we feel that we’re ready to respond. After a quick morning briefing, we check the remaining tools and the truck itself.
Our daily apparatus check starts by pulling it outside and setting it up. Once it’s running, we do the normal lights and siren check, which involves a walk-around to make sure all the driving, emergency and specialty lights (spotlights, etc.) are working. Next comes the actual aerial check. Basically, it’s the same as setting up on a fire, except we’re able to exercise it a bit more and take our time doing it. And because we rotate drivers, it’s a great way to get everyone up to speed on setting up and operating the aerial. We check all the functions—outriggers, over-rides, elevate, rotate, extend, nozzle operation, etc.—and spend a little time operating it just to give it some exercise. We carry hand tools and a roof ladder on the fly section and check them at this time. Once we determine that everything looks OK, the ladder is bedded and the remaining tools are checked.
This is also the time that we check the assortment of hand tools, power tools and extra equipment that we carry on the rig (ropes, hand tools, cords, water supply equipment). Most of the check involves just making sure the equipment is where it should be and that it’s stowed neatly. Some of it requires operational checks: positive pressure fans, portable light generators, battery-operated multi-tools, extra box lights and the on-board generator.
Each of the tools is started and allowed to run for a bit and then shut down, fueled (if needed) and stowed so that it’s ready to use. One of the simple things we ensure is that all power tools are left in the “on” position so that they’re ready to go when needed.
At this time, we look over the ground ladders again to make sure that they haven’t slid forward and that they don’t need a quick cleaning due to the road conditions or a fire the night before. During the winter months, it seems like the ladders need a wash-down every couple shifts simply because of the sand and salt used on the roads.
After everything is checked, we pull the truck in and wash it, reposition our turnouts and then move on to whatever else we have planned.
On certain days we do some additional cleaning and maintenance, such as cleaning all the ground ladders and making sure they’re all operating as expected, but because we’re looking things over every day, we don’t let things get too out of control.
One of the most important benefits of the daily check is that it provides a review for everybody. Not only does the equipment get thoroughly checked, but the guys are also working together at the same time. It’s also a great time to discuss whatever comes up—maybe an operational tactic on the last fire, something we saw another crew doing or (frequently) what the other shift didn’t do that fired us up! Whatever it is, it’s a great way to get everyone on the same page for the day.