How to Prolong Fire Department Equipment Life

As firefighters, we have a lot riding on our equipment. We demand more out of our gear than practically any other profession, because if it fails, it can cost a whole lot more than just money. How, then, can we ensure that our equipment doesn’t break down when we need it the most?

The answer is simple: check your equipment regularly. This seems like a no-brainer, but when you consider the realities of the job, it’s not such an easy task. Consider all there is to keep track of: daily and weekly pre-shift truck checks, inventory checks, PPE gear and SCBA bottles, hose and pump schedules, PM and annual tests, ALS and BLS equipment, drug checks, and more. Now combine that with all the other responsibilities firefighters have (running calls, training, maintaining certifications, etc.), and it’s easy to see how inspecting your equipment could fall by the wayside.

Major issues can arise if  equipment goes unchecked for too long. Every year, people and property are needlessly put in harm’s way when crucial inspections get missed. “In the case of the firefighter, proper maintenance can be the difference between life and death,” says Bob Norton of the Haddam (CT) Volunteer Fire Company. “Maintenance is the most lackluster part of the fire service, but outside of training, it may be the most important.”

With that in mind, here are four tips to keep your equipment up to the task:

  1. Use it or lose it. Start and run your equipment regularly according to manufacturer or NFPA specs. Check the engine, fluid levels, lights/sirens and tires in your apparatus consistently. The same also applies to power tools and gear that gets used less often (saws, spreaders, etc.). Even brand new trucks and tools will not work properly if they go unused for too long.
  2. Schedule your inspections. Chances are, you already have some system in place to monitor your checks, be it a logbook, spreadsheet or software service. Whatever the method, make sure that: 1) The checks are thorough and include everything from daily inspections to ones that take place every few years; 2) all checks comply with NFPA, manufacturer, and/or standard operating policies; and 3) the documentation will hold up in court (no shortcuts or “pencil-whipped” check sheets). If that seems like a daunting task, there are services like that can automate this process for you.
  3. Stay up-to-date with equipment training. Everyone in your fire department should know how to operate the equipment—whether it’s powering a generator, working a circular saw or running a hydraulic fan. But this is not always an easy task when you’re dealing with equipment and crews that may be constantly changing. One way to alleviate this is to film the more complex inspections being done, so that firefighters can reference them during their checks. You can take care of this in-house (using a camera phone and YouTube), or there are training companies that offer this feature.
  4. Handle issues early on. Good inspections don’t mean taking your engine in every year for maintenance (though you should). Good inspections require you to check your apparatus, equipment and inventory consistently so that you can take care of small issues before they become more costly. While this may seem tedious, it can save time and money. A 2013 report found that consistent and complete inspections can extend operating life by up to 30 percent. But more importantly, it can save lives.

As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This certainly rings true when it comes to fire rescue.

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