Boston crash highlights need for vehicle preventative maintenance

By Stephen Wilde
President of EVT Certification Commission

AP Photo/John Cetrino
Boston work at the scene of the crash in January.

Related Resources:
 Full Report on Boston Fire Truck Maintenance

EVT Certification

ASE Certification

The report into the Boston Fire Department's vehicle maintenance program following the death of Lt. Kevin Kelley makes strong reading.

Lt. Kelley was killed Jan. 9 when the fire truck he was riding in careened down a hill and slammed into an apartment building when the brakes reportedly failed.

There has been a lot written about emergency vehicle maintenance, or the lack thereof, following the tragic accident. It's vital that every department in the country takes heed of the lessons that have come out of it.

The NFPA, the ASE Certification, the Apparatus Maintenance Section of the IAFC, emergency vehicle manufacturers and the EVT Certification Commission have long advocated the importance of maintenance done by "qualified" technicians.

But with budget constraints, departments may be cutting out these crucial maintenance items, which can lead to tragic results. The purpose of maintenance is to have safe ready-to-use apparatus available at all times.

This mission prompted NFPA 1911 Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2007 edition, and NFPA 1071 Professional Qualification Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technicians.

The implementation of NFPA 1911 is critical to the safe operation of emergency vehicles. A key factor in the safety of all apparatus is the out-of-service criteria in the standard, which requires the apparatus to be repaired or removed from service when defects are found.

This standard requires qualified technicians, daily/weekly operational checks, diagnostic checks, periodic inspections, maintenance and performance tests. Do not overlook the new annual performance tests that are now required along with the annual aerial and service pump tests.

Anyone involved in the maintenance, repair or inspection of apparatus needs to get this standard and use it. Some of the major points to note in the revised edition, which came into effect last year, are: 

  • Out-of-service criteria that require apparatus be repaired or removed from service
  • Out-of-service lists that require qualified technicians to determine the severity of the defect
  • All apparatus is covered by standard, whether in-service or reserve
  • Requires qualified (NFPA 1071) technicians perform maintenance, inspections, diagnostic checks and performance tests
  • Requires daily/weekly operational checks be performed
  • New annual required performance testing of low voltage electrical system, line voltage electrical system, foam system, brakes, vehicle weight, parking brakes, and on board breathing air compressor systems
  • Annex information on setting up and implementing PM programs
  • Annex forms for daily/weekly checks, semi-annual/annual forms, and annual testing forms
  • Annex D information about the safe, useful life of an apparatus

Maintenance inspections of emergency vehicles reduce down time, help hold down the cost of repairs and increase the safety of apparatus. Old or new, these are complex machines with highly sophisticated technology.

No matter how new your apparatus is, it could break down at the most inopportune time if you don't follow the inspection and maintenance schedules as outlined in NFPA 1911 and manufacturers' recommendations.

NFPA 1911 requires that the inspections and maintenance be done by "qualified" technicians as stated in NFPA 1071, which establishes the minimum requirements for a person to be considered qualified to inspect, diagnosis, maintain and repair emergency vehicles. Annex B, page 23 & 24, of that document lists appropriate EVT Certifications and ASE Certifications to help determine technician qualification.

The bottom line is obtain NFPA 1911 and NFPA 1071, and implement both standards into your organization. Ensure that your apparatus is inspected and repaired by qualified technicians.

If your department inspects and repairs apparatus in-house, require EVT and ASE Certifications. If you hire an outside vendor, ask to see their technician’s EVT and ASE Certifications. If inspection and maintenance requirements are followed, we hope there will not be any more tragic vehicle accidents due to lack of maintenance. 

Stephen Wilde operates Certified Fleet Services, Inc., an emergency response vehicle repair facility in the Chicagoland area and is the chairman of the NFPA 1071 committee. He is also president of EVT Certification Commission, Inc, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to improving the quality of emergency vehicle service and repair throughout the United States and Canada by means of a certification program that will provide technicians recognition for the education, training, and experience they have in the service and repair of emergency vehicles.

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