Key changes to NFPA’s fire apparatus rule

Robert Avsec

Some of the most fundamentally important documents at our disposal in the fire service are the consensus standards published by NFPA. While they don’t necessarily qualify as light reading, they represent the hard work that members of any NFPA technical committee put into developing and revising the standards.

NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus is one of our more important governing documents because it addresses the one thing that every fire department has: fire apparatus. NFPA 1901 has several companion standards that are equally important for the safe, effective and efficient operation of fire apparatus.

The 2017 edition of NFPA 1911 has been released following its revision and updating process. The standard provides the recommended minimum requirements for establishing a program for the inspection, maintenance and testing for in-service fire apparatus.

It also contains guidelines for fire apparatus refurbishment and retirement; the standard’s recommendations apply to all in-service fire apparatus, regardless of the year of manufacture.

Ken Holland, NFPA’s staff liaison to the technical committee for NFPA 1911, provided the results of 1911’s revision process. Here are the important changes and the chapters where they can be found.

Chapter 4: General Requirements

The standard now recommends that all inspections, maintenance and testing be performed by qualified personnel.

It’s now recommended that fire apparatus have a complete inspection and diagnostic check of the vehicles per Chapter 8 in the standard. It is recommended that those tasks be conducted at least as frequently as recommended by the manufacturer or twice a year, whichever comes first.

Chapter 6: Out-of-Service Criteria

The engagement device on fire apparatus shall be disabled, if the fire pump or aerial device is out of service, to prevent operation of the pump or the aerial device.

Chapter 16: Inspection and Maintenance of Trailers

The operation of trailers received greater emphasis in the latest edition of NFPA 1901, and NFPA 1911 now requires the inspection and maintenance for all trailer electrical systems and lighting per the specifications contained in Chapter 9 of 1911.

Chapter 20: Performance Testing of Low-Voltage Electrical Systems

Increasingly, fire apparatus is being equipped with battery chargers or conditioners due to the increased electrical loads found in today’s apparatus. This section outlines the guidelines for testing such vehicle components.

Chapter 21: Performance Testing of Fire pumps, Wildland, Ultra-High Pressure and Industrial Supply Pumps

The revisions to this chapter reflect the increasing use of ultra-high pressure pumps in the fire service as well as the prevalence of fire pumps with pumping capacities greater than 3,000 gpm. The key additions include:

  • Minimum requirements for the test site for drafting.
  • Requirements for calibration of test gauges.
  • Performance test requirements of all fire pumps, including wildland, ultra-high pressure and industrial supply pumps.
  • Parameters for engine speed performance during the pumping test.

Chapter 22: Performance Testing of Aerial Devices

The revised standard’s requirements for elevating platforms includes revised requirements for the testing and inspection of elevating platforms for their extension and rotation operations.

It also sets performance requirements for relief valves and for the water curtain system used to protect the elevating platform.

Chapter 25: Performance Test of Line Voltage Electrical Systems

Today’s fire apparatus is much more than a truck chassis with a water tank, pump and hose. The complex electrical systems found in modern fire apparatus have extremely narrow performance tolerances.

The changes in this chapter of NFPA 1911 reflect the increased need for inspection and testing and performance requirements for those systems.

Appendices in NFPA 1911

The technical material contained in NFPA standards is extremely valuable for sure, and that found in the appendices of NFPA standards is equally valuable, if not more so.

The appendices allow the members of the technical committee to provide context and better understanding – particularly regarding the thought process of the committee members – to those who use the standard.

The technical committee’s revision work for the appendices in NFPA 1911 is very informative and enlightening. In particular, Annex D: Guidelines for First-line and Reserve Fire Apparatus, the committee has done a great job of housekeeping to assist the user in understanding the links between NFPA 1911 and the other standards applicable to fire apparatus.

Appendix D.1: General

One cannot argue that today’s fire apparatus provides firefighters with a much safer mode of transportation, along with safer, more effective, and more efficient operations once there.

Today’s fire apparatus has become such a vehicle because of the changes, upgrades and fine-tuning to NFPA 1901 over the past 10 to 15 years – roughly three revision cycles. Appendix D.1 highlights the point that fire service leaders should carefully consider the value (or risk) to their firefighters of keeping fire apparatus in first-line service when it’s more than 15 years old.

Appendix D.2: Evaluating Fire Apparatus

The consistent, objective and timely evaluation of fire apparatus is a critical function for any fire department. Fire apparatus, after all, is just another type of machine, and all machines have a finite life-cycle.

Appendices D.2 provides the objective criterion that fire departments should use to evaluate whether an apparatus is still fit for duty. Here’s a look at some key factors.

  • Vehicle road mileage.
  • Engine operating hours.
  • The quality of the preventative maintenance program.
  • The quality of the driver training program.
  • Whether the fire apparatus was used within its design parameters.
  • Whether the fire apparatus was manufactured on a custom or commercial chassis.
  • The quality of workmanship by the original manufacturer.
  • The quality of the components used in the manufacturing process.
  • The availability of replacement parts.

In the past two decades, critical enhancements in design, safety and technology have been added by manufacturers in response to changes in NFPA 1901 and customer demands.

The material in Appendix D.2 also should influence fire service leaders to evaluate the technology gap when considering whether to upgrade or refurbish a piece of fire apparatus, as opposed to purchasing new fire apparatus.

The technical committee also provides the objective criterion that should be used when considering that “keep it or replace it” decision for fire apparatus. This appendix emphasizes that the decision to upgrade or refurbish fire apparatus must be done in accordance with NFPA 1912.

Appendix D.4: Proper Maintenance of Fire Apparatus

The material in this appendix emphasizes the importance of fire departments having an effective and timely preventative maintenance program for its fire apparatus.

The technical committee members further emphasize the importance of strictly following the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations. Included in that emphasis are those components that the committee considers particularly critical for maintaining a reliable unit.

That includes ensuring that fire apparatus is not over its individual axle rating or total gross vehicle weight rating. Others are:

  • Engine belts, fuel lines and filters.
  • Brakes, brake lines and wheel seals.
  • Tires and chassis suspension.
  • The radiator and cooling system.
  • The alternator and charging system.

Appendix D.5: Refurbishing or Replacing Fire Apparatus

The technical committee cautions fire department administrators and fire chiefs to exercise extra care when evaluating the cost of refurbishing or updating existing fire apparatus versus the cost of new fire apparatus.

The committee provides objective criterion for fire administrators and fire chiefs to use when conducting their cost-benefit analysis of the value of upgrading or refurbishing a piece of fire apparatus.

Here are six questions the committee members say should be part of that analysis.

1. What is the true condition of the existing apparatus?
2. What technology advances for improved safety, effectiveness and efficiency does the fire apparatus lack?
3. Does the incumbent fire apparatus still meet its original operational needs?
4. If refurbished, how will the fire apparatus compare to new fire apparatus for its level of safety and operational capabilities?
5. How will the anticipated yearly cost to operate for a refurbished unit compare to that of a new fire apparatus?
6. Is there a current trade-in value for the incumbent apparatus that might not be there in the future?

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