When should you refurbish or replace your fire apparatus?

CarolinaFireJournal - Daniel J. Cimini
Daniel J. Cimini
08/01/2012 -

During these economic times budgets are getting tighter and tighter. City leaders or commissioners may ask you to look at repairs and or refurbishment of your older apparatus rather than replace them with new.

Your decision should be based on a sound financial bases — not spending good money after bad, keep in mind, that you must maintain and repair a vehicle during its life time per NFPA 1911, this could mean making a major repair to the apparatus.

Fire department leaders must be in a position to justify their repair, or-replace decision before the city manager, mayor and council or a board of commissioners.


There will be more emphasis on the initial outlay of funds rather than the repair or replacement scenario. Prepare a quality analysis that shows the importance of your decision.

Repairing or refurbishing does not change the age of the unit, it is a Band-Aid on the issue of replacement of a unit until funds are available to replace the apparatus which does not meet the time requirements of the NFPA 1911 and NFPA 1912.

Compare the facts of replacement and refurbishment side by side and a financially sound decision will become much easier to substantiate.

It would be nice if there were simple guidelines, but each apparatus and community it serves, and its needs, are unique. The cost of the repairs, the cost of replacement, the useful life of a repaired apparatus, and the years of use by a new apparatus, will affect every department differently.

Repairing makes financial sense if the decision is made based on the requirements of NFPA and ISO.

A good decision can be made on the repair versus replacement argument, if it can be determined through the NFPA 1911 “Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus 2012 Edition” that the apparatus meets the less than 25 year requirement for front line and reserve service. Any apparatus over 25 years of age per NFPA 1911 Annex “D” should be retired from service.

The repairing of an apparatus will not make it “new” or free of any future repairs. A comprehensive report should include any future repair costs that can be expected, or unexpected, during the useful life extension as long as it does not pass the 25 year requirement of NFPA 1911.

A comprehensive analysis should show reasonable amounts for the costs listed in the expected and unexpected section of the report.

Other costs that should be included in your report are safety, morale, and liability for the continued use of an older repaired or refurbished apparatus. It’s important to include an amount for all these costs in the report.

After a complete cost of repair or refurbishment has been formulated, the report should compare the repairs and or refurbishment costs against the cost of replacing the apparatus. Replacing the apparatus with a new one is not a cheap choice by no means. Fire apparatus are expensive and continue to become more expensive with every passing year. Replacing an apparatus is not a decision to take lightly. But in all cases Fire Fighter Safety should be your number one priority.

If you elect to repair or refurbish an apparatus it should be upgraded in accordance with NFPA 1911 and or NFPA 1912 to insure that the entire standard is followed.

Daniel Cimini is assistant chief (retired) of the Myrtle Beach Fire Department and member of the NFPA 1901 Technical Committee.
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