10 fire apparatus maintenance questions

Ask and answer these key questions to better understand and improve your fleet


Is your apparatus fleet being maintained properly? How about the associated equipment? Are the mechanics who work on our apparatus qualified to do the job? Would your maintenance records stand up in court?

Fire service leaders at every department in the country should be able to answer these questions. Questions of maintenance, repair and annual testing get to the heart of apparatus programs focused on life safety. After all, without our apparatus and equipment, the quality and delivery time of the service we provide to our communities would be severely hampered.

While some apparatus tasks may seem routine (e.g., oil changes, pump testing), it takes a qualified emergency vehicle technician (EVT) with specialized training and certifications to competently perform all the maintenance and repairs. Further, the EVT is responsible for the accurate documentation of all repair and maintenance activity on each apparatus.

Without our apparatus and equipment, the quality and delivery time of the service we provide to our communities would be severely hampered.
Without our apparatus and equipment, the quality and delivery time of the service we provide to our communities would be severely hampered.

Just like the vehicles need a regular check-up, so too does every fire department’s fleet maintenance program. Ask and answer these 10 questions to increase your knowledge about your department’s fleet maintenance program.

1. Do we have current maintenance manuals?

Most departments keep at least two copies of the maintenance, repair, electrical and parts manuals for every piece of older department-owned and -operated apparatus. Newer trucks are often delivered with a USB flash drive or a link to an online maintenance and parts manuals.

If your department’s EVTs also perform maintenance, specialized repairs, technical jobs, or annual inspections and testing for other departments, it is important to require that the manuals, flash drives or online links for those vehicles be returned with the vehicle after the repairs.

Keep manuals, labeled by department name and unit number, in a reference library. When involved in the process of ordering a new unit for another department, request access for the technical and parts manuals from the manufacturer.

2. Are the EVTs who work on your apparatus and equipment qualified?

All of your EVTs must have an extensive amount of experience from their previous jobs, vocational school degrees and factory training. They should also possess the appropriate current certifications per NFPA 1071 Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications, 2020 edition.

Apparatus and equipment demand precise tasks, which requires specific qualifications. Be sure to staff your fleet maintenance department with personnel qualified in all relevant areas of the NFPA, state and federal standards. Make sure EVTs complete manufacturer-specific training and education for the apparatus they service.

3. Do you perform preventative maintenance checks?

While there is no guarantee that a truck will start every time the tones sound, a good preventative maintenance program is the best way to avoid costly repairs and keep all the apparatus and equipment in a state of response readiness.

There are several different programs that may be used based on the piece of equipment, activity and geographic location, and as recommended by NFPA 1911 Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Fire Apparatus, 2017 edition.

Administrative vehicle and ambulance maintenance should be based on minimum of miles, time or fuel consumption and rotated in for preventative maintenance based on the manufacturer-recommended intervals. Schedule your pumpers, towers, heavy rescues, hazmat units, tele squirt, quints and trucks for preventative maintenance on engine hour or quarterly intervals based on the agency’s level of call activity and training time. Brush/wildland units, tankers/tenders and most reserve vehicles may be scheduled for maintenance once a year, again based on the location and activity of the unit and manufacturer recommendations.

Utilize a reliable fleet software program to track preventative maintenance, annual testing/inspections, and required certifications and licensing for each class code that corresponds to the type of apparatus and equipment. In addition, connecting telematics with fleet software can improve the fleet maintenance program by extracting valuable information on vehicle health and status.

4. What do you do if you find a serious problem during a preventative maintenance inspection?

Immediately remove the unit out of service as defined in the NFPA 1911, Out-of-Service criteria and correct the problem. This includes any core components that are serious enough to jeopardize the safety and performance of the apparatus or equipment.

Chapter 6 Out-of-Service Criteria

6.1.2 Where a technician conducts an evaluation of the emergency vehicle to determine if the emergency vehicle or a component should be taken out of service, the technician shall report the findings to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) in writing with one of the following recommendations:

(1) The emergency vehicle shall be taken out of service.

(2) The emergency vehicle shall be retained in service with specified limitations.

(3) The emergency vehicle shall be retained in service without limitations.

5. Do you keep maintenance records on your vehicles?

Again, this is where a fleet tracking software program can really help by keeping detailed records on every vehicle, apparatus, and piece of equipment. Maintenance records should include written details of the request for maintenance or repairs, dates, description of the work performed, parts issued, notes, EVT names, inspection forms, pump test forms, aerial inspections, and certification forms.

Detailed records are important for defending the department’s position in the unlikely event of an accident, claiming and collecting warranty parts and repairs from manufacturers and providing detailed records of apparatus and equipment when a unit is being liquidated.

Without documented proof that maintenance was performed per the manufacturer’s recommendation and department SOPs, warranty claims are likely to be denied, and liability exposure increases if documentation is inaccurate.   

6. Do you conduct NFPA 1911 pump tests?

Once a year, every unit with a fire pump must be scheduled for an annual pump test, per NFPA 1911.

Fire pumps on newly delivered apparatus should be Acceptance Tested when they are received at the department. The on-site acceptance test will demonstrate the performance of the fire pump and related systems.

Post-repair pump tests should be performed any time there are major repairs to the fire pump, pump transmission, truck transmission or power plant. Store pump test records with other apparatus maintenance records, as these may be inspected during an ISO evaluation. Without the pump test documentation and the inability to flow the water capacity labeled on pump panel, it is likely the department could receive a penalty with a lower point score when undergoing an ISO review.

Side note: NFPA 1911 also requires annual testing for vehicle weight. As we all know, whenever the newest tool shows up, it goes on the truck – but we rarely take anything off the truck. We’ll get into this “Velcro system” another day to ensure we’re properly weight testing our vehicles.

7. Do you involve a variety of personnel in your program?

Although only trained and certified EVTs, mechanics or parts personnel should perform work in your facility, a quality maintenance program includes the engineers or driver/operators assigned to the apparatus or equipment, as required in NFPA 1002: Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, 2017 Edition. A good driver operator is the first line of defense in maintenance and repairs because they have an intimate knowledge of the apparatus and equipment. They perform a comprehensive vehicle check and can accurately report deficiencies. It is crucial that a good working relationship be established with fleet maintenance and line personnel to enhance the program and keep the apparatus response ready. That being said, I do not recommend taking people off-line or using light-duty firefighters to perform maintenance and repairs.

8. Do you involve EVTs/mechanics in apparatus specifications?

Apparatus maintenance and shopping for the next piece of apparatus go hand in hand. Next to the driver/operator, the mechanic is the most intimately familiar with the apparatus and related systems and may have had applicable factory training that’s unavailable to a driver/operator. Having an EVT participate on the apparatus specification committee can reduce the risk of past apparatus and maintenance problems recurring.  

9. How often should you replace frontline apparatus?

Regular apparatus and equipment replacement plays a key role in controlling maintenance costs and equipment downtime. The days of keeping apparatus around for 30-plus years are quickly disappearing. Three elements should support your replacement program:

  1. Operational life: Operational life is the function of the unit in your department. Can it carry all the equipment you need? Does it still fit in the station? Does it still fit the original use it was designed for?
  2. Cost life:  Life cycle cost tracks the maintenance and repairs over the life of the vehicle and is computed into an average cost per mile or cost per hour. Is the unit costing too much to maintain? Is the unit experiencing enormous amounts of downtime affecting your service? Can you still get parts for this unit?
  3. Technological life: Are you taking full advantage of the technology available on newer apparatus and equipment? Do you have ABS? Is your lighting package adequate? What about safety features available on aerial devices and fire pumps? What about multiplexing, electronic pressure governors, and air ride suspension?  

The program I have used targets fire apparatus for 10 years of front line service and three more years in reserve. Ambulances were programmed for three to five years of front-line use and two years in reserve. Staff and support vehicles are programmed for six to seven years or 80,000 miles or greater. While these are internal goals, the life cycle cost analysis program was always monitored and scrutinized for accuracy. Some units may not make the target replacement goal and need to be replaced sooner while others may go many years beyond the intended replacement date.

10. Does your annual budget include items for apparatus and equipment maintenance and repair costs?

If you’re not budgeting for apparatus and equipment maintenance and repairs, then you are not prepared for the inevitable. You will soon end up in crisis mode, reacting to apparatus problems instead of proactively preparing for them. Fire apparatus and equipment represent a significant investment that the community entrusts you to preserve. The apparatus and equipment are not cheap, and neither is the cost related to maintenance and repair.

The dollars spent on a preventative maintenance program will always be wise money spent.   You can pay a little bit for good maintenance now or you can pay a lot for catastrophic repairs later. While it may look like just a preventative maintenance program on the outside, it is also a total risk management program that is protecting the people in your department, the community you serve, and the equipment the taxpayers have purchased.

Answers are just a start

A comprehensive fleet maintenance program is important to the vitality and longevity of your fire department. Answering these 10 questions is a great way to start better understanding your program. It is also important to know who is working on your apparatus equipment and whether they comprehend the importance of safe and well-maintained apparatus and equipment. After all, apparatus safety begins with the apparatus itself.

Remember, fleet maintenance is risk management. The 911 response is equipment-dependent on fuel, proper maintenance and testing. Fleet maintenance affects so many different components in the agency’s overall mission, and if properly managed, dramatically reduces the potential for liability due to accidents and bodily harm.

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