By David Cain, Contributor
As firefighters, 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, 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 and it's easy to see how inspecting your equipment could fall by the wayside.
While missing a check every now and then may not be the end of the world, major issues can arise if they go unchecked for too long. Every year, people and property needlessly are 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," said Bob Norton, PIO of the Haddam (Conn.) 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.
Start and run your equipment regularly according to manufacturer or NFPA specs. Check the engine, fluid levels, lights, sirens and tires on your apparatus consistently.
The same also applies to power tools and gear that gets used less often (saws, spreaders and others). Even brand new trucks and tools will not work properly if they go unused for too long.
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 the checks are thorough and include everything from daily inspections to ones that take place every few years; all checks comply with NFPA, manufacturer, and/or SOP guidelines; and the documentation will hold up in court (no shortcuts or pencil-whipped check sheets).
If that seems like a daunting task, there are services that can automate this process.
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.
Handle issues early
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 as well as 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.
David Cain was deputy chief with the Boulder (Colo.) Fire Department for 34 years. Since his retirement last year, Cain has worked as a consultant for fire districts across the U.S. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.