Who's working on your fire apparatus?
Relying on emergency vehicle techs will improve a department's bottom line, response capability and overall safety
I received the following response from a fire service colleague on LinkedIn after he read Sarah Calams' article, "Why Driving Apparatus into the Junkyard Isn't Cost-Effective," in Fire Chief digital's summer 2016 edition. Jeff Haak, the owner of J. Haak Fleet Services, wrote:
"Every day fire departments across America perform training exercises on how to spray water on a fire or how to go into or get out of a building on fire, all very noble endeavors. Ask your local fire chief what training the individual repairing that $400,000 to $500,000 pumper receives and don't be surprised by the song and dance you get. Most fire apparatus won't top 100,000 miles. But if you don't maintain it, it will have no choice other than the junkyard."
Haak's point is well taken; he has 29 years of experience as a mechanic and holds three Emergency Vehicle Technician Master certifications and four ASE Master certifications.
Most fire departments don't give a second thought about the need for their firefighters to be trained and certified for the jobs that they do. Training that complies with accepted standards, such as NFPA standards, for firefighters and fire officers is a significant benchmark pursued by many departments.
Firefighting and fire chief expos across this country will spend days teaching classes and presenting seminars on a wide range of fire service topics. But where are the training classes with information on repairing a $500,000 pumper?
According to Haak, "The Florida Fire Chiefs Association puts on the best training week that I have been to, and I know there are a couple others. Beyond that, no one touches it [training for those who repair fire apparatus]."
Haak says proper training for those who work on fire apparatus should be important for four key reasons.
First, there has been a concerted effort to make the trucks smarter and greener, which has added a vast amount of technology to fire apparatus. From on-board computer systems that monitor the critical systems of the apparatus to the diesel emissions-reduction systems, there are more items on fire apparatus that can now malfunction.
Second, for the same reason most people cannot repair their own vehicles anymore — the automotive technology has come so far and so fast — untrained firefighters should not be attempting to fix a very expensive and technologically advanced piece of taxpayer-provided equipment.
Third is costs. A trained individual who can trace a problem and repair or replace the defect saves a fire department money. Running a maintenance department based on the idea that labor costs nothing because that person is on-shift is penny wise and pound foolish.
Finally, there is liability. This is where fire chief careers end. When a fire truck rams through a building because it wouldn't stop, lawyers and investigators start peeling back the maintenance onion. If they find that repairing the apparatus wasn't as important as keeping them pretty, there's going to be trouble.
Setting the standard
Too often, the mechanics charged with working on fire apparatus and ambulances, particularly those employed by the local government, are part of the cadre of mechanics who work on many different types of vehicles other than emergency vehicles.
Few would argue that there's a world of different between the maintenance and repair needs of today's fire apparatus and those of, say, a dump truck or trash truck. So what's a better maintenance and repair paradigm for fire departments and their fire apparatus and ambulances?
In 1988, the International Association of Fire Chiefs introduced the Fire Apparatus Mechanics Certification Program. IAFC's goal was to elevate the standards of emergency vehicle maintenance as well as the competencies of the personnel who perform the work. The program also sought to provide those fire mechanics with recognition for their education, training and experience.
Today, those early efforts to raise the level of professionalism within the fire mechanic ranks are carried on by the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission. IAFC is no longer directly involved with oversight for the EVT certification program, but does continue to support the program.
The EVT Certification Commission is a non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the quality of emergency vehicle service and repair throughout the United States and Canada. EVT is governed by a board of directors that represents emergency response agencies, emergency vehicle maintenance service associations and the educational community. Currently, there are over 7,000 EVT-certified technicians.
Being certified as an EVT shows fire departments, governing boards and apparatus service center customers that the technician has proven themselves knowledgeable in diagnosing and repairing emergency vehicle mechanical problems. There are both personal and organizational benefits for personnel who attain EVT certification.
- Potentially better pay, increased job opportunity and improved status with the EVT's employer.
- More cost-effective maintenance and repairs that result in more reliable emergency vehicles and equipment, thus enhancing the safety of the public and emergency personnel, as well as increased service life for the apparatus.
- Increased respect, recognition and credibility in the industry and fire service and with the firefighters and officers who use the fire apparatus.
- A nationally recognized certification that increases the EVT's potential for both lateral as well as upward movement in the emergency vehicle maintenance and repair field.
There are two options for technicians to become certified. The first allows the candidate to take only EVT exams and become certified in the individual test areas. The candidate's successful completion of the required course work results in the issuance of an EVT test certificate stating the area(s) in which the candidate is certified.
With the second option, the candidate can obtain the highest EVT certification by taking a combination of the EVT exams and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence exams, or the equivalent Canadian Provincial License.
Level certification will be granted to the candidate who successfully completes these requirements. Candidates can pursue Level I, II, or Master EVT Technician in the fire apparatus, ambulance and ARFF vehicle tracks.
There are five EVT certification tracks: fire apparatus technician, ambulance technician, ARFF vehicle technician, law enforcement vehicle technician and management. There are more details in the EVT Certification Commission's comprehensive brochure.
"I know there are good people doing good work, but they are only as good as what they have been taught," Haak said. "Certification indicates that an individual received training, transcribed that knowledge to paper and received a certificate for it. Experience, along with training, is what gets the job done.
"Train your people. If they fight fire, train them for that. If they repair the apparatus train, them for that as well."