Apparatus checks can be considered a form of maintenance, by inspecting the apparatus on a daily and or scheduled basis the person making the inspection will be able to find minor problems that can be fixed in most cases by fire department personnel themselves.
An example would be finding a discharge or suction valve that is hard to open; with a little lubricant the valve will most likely work smoother thus the inspection became a maintenance item.
Fire departments should have an Apparatus Inspection Form that drivers/engineers or firefighters should fill out each shift, or in the case of a volunteer department a regular weekly schedule. The form should list all the items that should be checked and should include a spot on each item to be checked off when inspection is completed.
There should be a spot for comments in the event that there is a need for the repair to be taken care of by a certified emergency vehicle technician. The inspection on a daily or a scheduled basis will insure that potential problems are found which can prevent a malfunction or possible injury to a firefighter.
Identifying problems right away will also prevent additional problems that may be related to the item found during the inspection, thereby saving the fire department money.
Ideally a fire pump should be maintained on a regular basis. The pump should be back flushed to clear out sand and debris that possibly entered the pump during operation at a hydrant or at draft. The back flush should be performed at least once a month and or after any operation at a fire where water is drafted, supplied by another engine or hooked to a hydrant.
The water tank on an engine should be flushed at least twice a year to make sure any sand or foreign matter is flushed from the tank so it will not damage pump impellers, ball valves, relieve valves and/or governors.
A simple method that can be used to help maintain a pump and valves from the inside is to put a gallon of a dish detergent like Dawn or Lux Liquid into the tank and operate the pump and circulating the water through the tank to pump valve to the tank fill valve. Doing this will clean buildup of grime and scum off the impellers and ball valves. Cap all discharges and open and close the valves to help in the cleaning process.
During this operation, open and close the relief valve and or governor to help lubricate and clean the internal working parts. Take the apparatus to a hydrant, flush the hydrant, hook up the apparatus, remove the tank sump plug and flush the tank and pump.
Compartment door latches, hinges, and spring type door hold open devices should be cleaned and lubricated when they are found to be hard to operate or feel like they have sand in them when trying to open. Pull out drawers, shelves, and tool boards should also be cleaned and lubricated to keep them moving freely.
The items discussed above are a small fraction of what should be done to insure your apparatus is ready to respond to a call and to insure that firefighters are operating a safe apparatus.
Departments should have an SOG which explains what should be done during the checking of an apparatus and when it should be done. There should be a Maintenance SOG as well outlining “how” this should be completed and what can be completed by fire department personnel or what needs to be completed by a Certified Emergency Vehicle Technician.
A good reference tool is NFPA 1915 “Standard for Fire Apparatus Preventive Maintenance Program” 2000 Edition which defines the minimum requirements for establishing a preventive maintenance program for fire apparatus. The standard identifies the systems and items to be inspected, frequency of servicing and maintenance, and requirements for testing.
Daniel Cimini is assistant chief (retired) of the Myrtle Beach Fire Department and member of the NFPA 1901 Technical Committee.