6 steps to improve reserve fire trucks readiness

Follow these steps to keep your reserve fire apparatus more ready for duty and more appealing to the firefighters using them

Reserve fire apparatus is like a rental car in Daytona Beach during spring break. The car gets checked out in fine shape, rode hard and put up wet for a week by a bunch of college kids who've used it as a four wheel dumpster, and then dropped off at the rental car office looking like ….

Nobody likes having to ride a reserve engine or truck. Firefighters are very possessive of and take great pride in their assigned apparatus. Commendable for sure, though I've seen more than a few cases where firefighters and officers have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep their rig in service just so they didn't have to switch over to a reserve.

NFPA 1911, "Standard on Automotive Fire Apparatus, Guidelines for First-Line and Reserve Fire Apparatus," recommends that apparatus greater than 15 years old be placed in reserve status and upgraded to incorporate as many features as possible of the current fire apparatus standard. The recommended age for reserve apparatus is between 20 and 23 years, with applicable upgrades.

The flipside of the coin is that reserve apparatus may not have been properly maintained between deployments or had equipment go missing — not kept in a state of readiness that would inspire firefighters to readily hop aboard when their rig was out of service. There's got to be a better way, right?

So let's explore things that your department can do to enhance the readiness of your reserve apparatus and how to raise the status of reserve apparatus in the minds of your firefighters and officers.

Maintenance and record keeping

My subject-matter experts, the Emergency Vehicle Technicians who are members of the Emergency Vehicle Technicians Association, were unanimous in their opinion that reserve apparatus should get the same maintenance as front-line apparatus. Further, they told me that reserve apparatus needs it more so because of the age of the chassis and other mechanical parts.

With reserve vehicles it's more important to change fluids like motor oil, transmission fluid and engine coolant based on time rather than mileage or operating hours. Older apparatus have older seals in the engine, transmission, etc., and those seals don't function as well as they did when they were new and being regularly lubricated during vehicle operations. Regularly replacing those key fluids helps to maintain the seals and prevent additional aging of internal engine parts from worn out or contaminated fluids and lubricants.

A key tool for managing this special-needs member of your fleet is maintaining accurate and complete vehicle maintenance records. Requiring good record keeping can help instill a higher degree of accountability from your fleet manager and your firefighters and officers. The apparatus log for each reserve vehicle should include:

  • Documentation of all check-ins and check-outs.
  • Documentation of all maintenance done to the vehicle.
  • Fuel usage logs.
  • Cumulative costs of parts, labor and overhead for a vehicle over its life-cycle.

The information you collect in keeping these records will be extremely useful in determining when a piece of reserve apparatus should be permanently removed from the fleet.

Two reserve classes
One of the challenges of having reserve apparatus is the amount of time required for personnel to transfer from their assigned vehicle to a reserve unit.

For short-term maintenance that can be completed in one day, the Indianapolis Fire Department maintains ready reserves that carry a full complement of firefighting tools and equipment. The crew simply drives up in their apparatus, switches over their medical gear and takes off in the ready reserve.

The department uses long-term reserves for apparatus undergoing more lengthy repairs. Long-term reserves can last from two days to several months. When these are used, the apparatus crew switches over all of their equipment and tools into the reserve truck's empty compartments.

Another challenge, if the reserve apparatus is equipped with tools and appliances, is maintaining that inventory as the unit is used by various crews. If the reserve apparatus has newer or better tools or appliances than that of the apparatus it's replacing, end-users have been alleged to have engaged in swaps. Or they've been known to "acquire" a tool or appliance from the reserve unit that they did not have on their apparatus.

Six-step process
Departments can address these concerns by having a clear procedure for the use of reserve apparatus and a defined process for the check-in/check-out of reserve apparatus. The check-out/check-in process should include these six steps.

1. Assign an engineer, or "owner," for each piece of reserve apparatus. This individual could be the fleet manager or the officer of the day for the station where the unit is stored. The engineer would be responsible for completing the check-out/check-in process with the receiving fire officer or firefighter.

2. Post a laminated photograph of the contents of each compartment inside of each apparatus compartment along with a written list of equipment that should be in the compartment. 

3. The engineer and receiving officer complete a 360-degree survey of the reserve apparatus at the time of check out. During this walk-around, the engineer would take photographs of each compartment and its contents along with full-view photos of all four sides of the apparatus; these photographs would be included in the vehicle's apparatus log. When the survey is completed, the receiving officer and engineer would sign a check-out receipt.

4. During its use, the receiving fire company's officers are responsible keeping the vehicle's apparatus log accurate and complete. This would include any repair work needed when the vehicle is returned.

5. Upon return of the reserve apparatus, the engineer and returning officer repeat the 360-degree survey, along with a new set of photographs. Those photographs should also be entered into the apparatus log.

6. The engineer and returning officer complete the transaction by signing the check-in receipt attesting that the unit has been returned in the same condition as when it was checked out, or that needed repairs have been documented and work orders completed. 

Try these ideas and see if they can help your department raise the status of your reserve apparatus and help keep it ready to roll the next time.

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