Trending Topics

The wheels on the truck … fall off?

Video shows damaged engine after losing rear axle en route to call


The engine’s rear axle separated from the apparatus while en route to a call.

Photo/Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799

On May 30, 2019, a news story broke in upstate New York about the Ogdensburg Fire Department’s Engine 2 losing the rear axle while en route to an assistance call at a meth lab. As the fire apparatus turned the corner, the rear axle separated from the body of the apparatus. Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident.

Who’s to blame for the damaged apparatus?

I want to first emphasize that this situation is not the fault of the local fire department. They simply drove a piece of equipment that was supplied to them by the city. The department members completed their usual daily truck checks to ensure that everything was in working order: lights, sirens, oil and fluid levels, equipment on board, air brakes (if applicable) and the pump. Checking to see the level of rust or frame condition underneath the truck or the condition of the U-bolts or attachments that keep the rear axle to the frame of the truck is not part of the daily truck check. That is handled during the annual truck inspection conducted by a certified mechanical technician.

I am sure that many fingers will be pointing in all directions as blame gets deflected from person to person, but the fault lies at the end of the purse strings. In this case, it will be the city council and the general public, as they are the ones who fund their local fire department. Trying to push or extend the service life of a fire truck for the sake of saving money is only going to cost more money in the long run, as in the case of losing an axle during en route to a call. You will always get what you pay for, so if you want equipment that will perform daily as it needs to – and properly manage the apparatus fleet – then you are going to have to pay the associated cost.

Consequences of poor fleet management

According to a post on the department’s Facebook page, this incident leaves Ogdensburg with its two main line engines and its 1993 quint. Further, “In the event one of our main line engines were to need repair, that leaves us with our quint running first due,” the post reads.

In other words, this fire department now has one fewer engine to respond, which translates into fewer resources being available and on scene. The fire department now has to adjust its operations to function with one fewer engine by perhaps calling in mutual aid for a while. And of course, the personnel will still do their job and offer a high level of service despite the setback.

Fire trucks bring valuable resources to the scene like water, hoses, nozzles, SCBA, ladders, thermal imaging cameras and, most importantly, firefighters. This fire department now has to do more with less because of the decisions of a few people who thought that they could get a few more years out of an old fire truck. There is a reason why industry standards recommend average service lifespans for varying types of fire apparatus – to prevent rear axles from falling off when responding to a call.

The firefighters’ role in making a difference

Although this situation falls back on the department administration and city council to fund efforts to update and maintain the fleet, individual firefighters can try to help the cause as well. For example, members can join or enact their health and safety committees to keep on top of vehicle maintenance, vehicle replacement programs and/or annual mechanical inspections of each fire apparatus to ensure that each vehicle is kept in good running condition. Additionally, members, through their fire department associations, can educate the public they serve on the benefits of having modern/current fire apparatus to aid in the fire protection service to the community. This steps will help the overall mission of keeping firefighters well-equipped and, by extension, help protect the community.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.