When should we place an apparatus out of service?

Here are some ways to identify when an apparatus needs to be taken out of service and how to make sure it doesn't accidentally get used

There have been a lot of serious maintenance issues regarding fire apparatus. A few serious accidents — some involving deaths to members of the fire service — have occurred because of a lack of, or poor maintenance, as well as leaving defective apparatus in service.

These issues have cropped up in some major city fire departments, not just smaller rural departments.

All fire apparatus should be maintained by qualified EVT's, whether it be from your own department mechanic or from an AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction). This essentially means that a maintenance shop run by a city or county or even a private outside contractor should abide by the same rules.

Photo Craig Allyn Rose
Photo Craig Allyn Rose

Because of the economy being in shambles, various locations around the country seem to be cutting corners when it comes to maintenance. Firefighter safety should be the utmost concern regardless of budget cuts, but this is easier said than done in some cases.

NFPA 1911 is the "Standard for Inspection Maintenance Testing and Retirement of In Service Fire Apparatus." It should be followed by every department for establishing whether an apparatus should be taken out of service. The standard is 252 pages and covers a lot of ground. Chapter six covers determining whether or not to take a vehicle out of service.

While the standard is 252 pages long, here are some of the key features. First, as simple as it might seem, after you take a vehicle out of service it should be marked that it is indeed out of service.

There have been many instances of a fire truck being out of service without anyone knowing and actually responding with it because, in haste, a mechanic didn't put a sign on it.

Therefore, an out-of-service apparatus should be identified by one of the following means:

  1. A sign on the outside of the driver's door near the handle
  2. A special bag that covers the steering wheel
  3. A large sign on the driver's window
  4. A highly visible mechanism at the driver's position on the fire apparatus that all members of the fire department recognize as an out-of-service indicator.

Here are some deficiencies that indicate a vehicle should be taken out of service:

  • A cracked or broken windshield; missing or broken wipers; missing or broken door handles or latches; missing or broken foot pedals.
  • Wheels or rims that are broken; cracked or improperly seated; tires with cuts in the sidewalls; tread depth less than 4/32 inches on any steering axle or 2/32 inches on a non-steering axle.
  • Engines that won't crank or start; overheating engines; oil that is diluted with water or ant-freeze.
  • An automatic transmission that overheats in any range and has a "do not shift" light on; clutch component shift components have deficiencies.
  • Brakes out of adjustment; an air pressure drop of more than two psi in one minute for straight chassis and three psi for a combination chassis; parking brakes operation that does not meet DOT standards, braking system components that are not operational; air compressor problems not maintaining the correct pressure.
  • Pumps that will not engage; pressure control system not operational; deficiencies if any valves, controls, pressure gauges, throttle etc.
  • PTO for aerial operation that will not engage; stabilizer system not operational; aerial device not operational; hydraulic system components leaking; frayed cables; turntable fasteners that are broken or missing.

This listing just scratches the surface of out-of-service criteria. You really need to obtain a copy of NFPA 1911 to see the complete areas of concern. In Annex C, there are some excellent worksheets that you can print out for a daily or weekly checklist on pumpers and aerial devices. Basically making it easy to check all areas of any apparatus that needs to be checked.

A more vigilant effort is needed in the area of apparatus maintenance and, if necessary, taking a stronger stance in placing a vehicle out of service if needed. Making the effort to take these steps will protect firefighters' lives in the long run.

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