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How to maintain rapid-response vehicles

Fire departments are choosing rapid-response vehicles to save money; here are three steps to protect that investment


An increasing number of fire departments are turning to rapid-response vehicles for a variety of reasons including lower initial cost and lower maintenance costs compared with a Type I engine.

Since most of these vehicles are constructed using a heavy-duty commercial truck chassis, like the Ford F-550, it stands to reason maintenance costs are lower. That's because maintenance personnel are dealing with a smaller vehicle and parts are more readily available since there are hundreds of thousands of such vehicles on the road.

However, lower maintenance costs do not mean eliminating maintenance costs. It's important that departments operating these rigs have good preventive maintenance policies and procedures and ensure that its personnel comply with those governing documents 100 percent of the time.

Here are three steps to properly maintain rapid response vehicles.

1. Follow the standards
NFPA 1911: Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus is applicable to any rapid-response vehicle being used for emergency response by a fire department.

The standard provides guidance and direction for fire apparatus preventive maintenance in addition to the information used for the specification and purchasing.

These vehicles should be regularly inspected and tested and preventive maintenance should be done on a regularly scheduled basis. Any fire department vehicle that is found to be unsafe at any time should be placed out of service until it has been repaired.

They should be considered unsafe and placed out of service if deficiencies are detected in motor, transmission or drive train; brake system; cab or body mounting; steering system; door latches; suspension; personal safety restraint system; wheels or tires; and windshield, windshield wipers or defroster.

Other deficiencies may or may not require a vehicle to be placed out of service. Any safety-related deficiency that does not require the vehicle to be taken out of service should be repaired as quickly as possible.

2. Use NFPA checklists
All fire department vehicles should be inspected at least weekly to identify and correct unsafe conditions. Follow the Annex C of NFPA 1911, which provides example checklists for the complete documentation of apparatus inspections and can be used for daily or weekly inspection intervals.

Some of the procedures in Annex C note that rapid-response vehicles used for emergency response, with an assigned duty crew, should be inspected by the driver at the beginning of each work period.

In addition, vehicles that are not in service with an assigned duty crew should be inspected after each use or within 24 hours of being used. Those that have been out of service for maintenance or repairs or are involved in a crash should be inspected before being placed back in service.

3. Schedule inspections
A department should have a program of regularly scheduled mechanical inspection and servicing as well as service testing for all of its vehicles.

These inspections and service should follow the requirements of the appropriate NFPA standards, manufacturer's recommendations and state motor vehicle licensing and registration regulations. And they should be done by professionally qualified automotive professionals only such as SAE-certified mechanics or certified emergency vehicle technicians.

NFPA 1911 specifies that this should be done at least annually, and many departments go above this minimum with quarterly or semi-annual vehicle inspections depending on their call volume and road miles covered.

NFPA 1911 also includes two chapters that specifically apply to equipment that may be included in a rapid-response vehicle package.

  • Chapter 12: Inspection and Maintenance of Compressed Air–Foam Systems.
  • Chapter 15: Inspection and Maintenance of Winch Systems.

With a well-developed program of regular inspections by line personnel and mechanical inspections by automotive professionals fire departments will get many useful and productive years from their rapid-response vehicles.

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