The Importance of Apparatus Checks

(1) Photos by author.

By Mark van der Feyst 

Fire apparatus is a basic fire service tool in which every fire department now relies on them to aid in accomplishing the department’s job. Traditionally, apparatus has been with us since day one; we can look back at pictures of horse-drawn carriages as being the first apparatus. Since that time, apparatus has come a long way in its evolution.

Through modern technology and current National Fire Protection standards, apparatus are now highly technical pieces of equipment. They can be either custom-built or be made available as a factory model. In the fire hall, we must check our apparatus routinely, the reason being, simply, safety. In volunteer departments, this check may be done weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. In career departments, this must be done every day. By conducting a daily, weekly, or monthly apparatus check, we ensure that the apparatus is ready for service.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires departments to check all commercial trucks at the beginning and end of each day. Commercial drivers must keep official log books to record their safety inspection. In the fire service, we do not have the same log books, but we do have truck check sheets or a method of recording our truck check. This shows the DOT that the apparatus in question has been checked for safety items and is ready for service. Many departments do not document their truck checks. It is very important to do so for both the department and the public that we serve.

In the beginning, the fire service only had one type of apparatus: a horse pulling a manual or steam-driven pump. Today, there are many types of apparatus such as engines, rescues, ladder trucks, quints, mini-rescues, brush trucks, foam trucks, air and light trucks, command vehicles, rescue engines, tankers, and so on (photo 1). And, departments can build their trucks that suit their needs. Although most of these trucks look similar from the front, they are all different on the interior regarding the types of tools they carry, the operations for which they are used, and the frequency at which that they are used.

When checking any type of truck, departments need to address four basic areas: exterior, interior, operations, and equipment. If these four areas are checked consistently, then you will have completed a thorough truck check. Let’s look at each of these four areas.


The Exterior

To check the exterior of the truck, run the truck running with certain apparatus functions operating. Inspect the truck by conducting a full 360° walk-around. The exterior of the truck includes areas such as the following:

  • General appearance. Does the truck have any damage on the body such as scrapes?
  • Windows. Check all windows for cracks, chips, cleanliness; if the mirrors are secured; and if wiper blades in good condition.
  • Tires. Check if the tires are inflated to the proper pressure, if tread depth is above par, if the lug nuts are secure (and not loose), and if there any rocks in between the back dual tires.
  • Lights. Are the headlights, high beams, hazard lights, emergency lights working? Are any bulbs out; any lenses damaged; and are the turn signal indictors, running lights, pump panel lights working?
  • Air brake systems. Drain the air tank reservoirs and check for any air leaks.
  • Compartment doors. Do they open and close properly?
  • Equipment. Is there any equipment attached to the truck’s exterior? Make sure that it is secure and not ready to fall off.
  • License plate. Ensure that current sticker is on plate, both plates are on the truck if two are required, and a commercial inspection sticker is present and current.

(2) Check the pump panel, intakes, and discharge ports. Wheel chocks need to be accounted for as well.


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The Interior

Check the interior of the apparatus for proper operation. The driver needs to ensure it is ready for him to drive. He will need to adjust the driver’s seat for proper distance and height; adjust the mirrors; and adjust the telescoping steering wheel. Other aspects of the inside include the following:

  • Gauges. Check all gauges on the driver dashboard such as fuel, air gauges, oil temp, and transmission oil pressure gauge.
  • Switches. Ensure all switches and signals are working.
  • Lights. Check all interior lights.
  • Sirens. Ensure that the siren functions work along with air horn.
  • Air brakes. Conduct air brake test to ensure that all safety features of the system are working.
  • Engine. Check all engine fluids such as oil, transmission fluid, power-steering fluid, windshield washer fluid, radiator levels, hydraulic fluid, brake fluid, belts for wear and tear, battery terminals for corrosion, and hoses for cracks.

(3) Check all equipment on aerial devices such as this platform. Lights, nozzles, auxiliary outlets, and communicating devices.



Depending on the type of apparatus you have, its operations will vary. Some rescue and ladder trucks do not have a pump. Other trucks will have special operations such as an air cascade system. Either way, you must check the operations of the apparatus, which, for most trucks, involves operating the pump.

Newer trucks will have an electronic governor system. Older style trucks will have a pump by the pass valve. You can test this pump to ensure it works, whereas you cannot test the electronic governor. You can also set the pump by the pass valve once it is operating. If you run the pump at 500 pounds per square inch (psi) and set the bypass valve, you can then increase the throttle to raise the pump discharge to 600 psi to test it. The pump by pass valve should dump the excess pressure right away to maintain 500 psi. If this happens, then the valve works. If it does not happen, then there may be a problem.

Ensure that all the features of the pump such as the pump heater, cooling function, drains for each discharge and intake port, foam system (if the apparatus is so equipped), and the primer are working. Operate the primer for about 10 seconds to ensure that it will work and to get the air out of the pump.

For aerial devices, you must operate the ladder, the outriggers, and all the devices attached to the ladder. Each aerial truck is different with its setup procedures. So, it is important to follow the manufacturers procedures.

Safety systems are built into aerial devices when they are being set up. These safety systems allow one function to be operated when setting up; if the function is not properly set, it will prohibit certain functions. One example is the outriggers. There is a limiter switch on the outrigger that reads if the outrigger is fully extended or not. If it is extended, it will allow the aerial device to operate fully. If it is not, it will prohibit certain functions from operating. Ensuring that these safety systems work properly is vitally important.

It is also essential to operate the aerial device, whether it is a straight stick or a platform. Fully extend the aerial device and rotate it a full 360°, then fully extend the ladder and put it to 0° to one side. This will allow you to walk underneath it and inspect the water pipe, the sheave wheels, the cables, and grease on the ladder rails. Also operate the nozzles, any communicating devices, and auxiliary outlets. Once complete, the aerial device can be bedded.

Operate all scene lights using the onboard generator. Many rescues, engines, and ladder trucks feature these items. For rescues, they will have other items you will need to operate such as a winch system.



All trucks carry equipment. This equipment will depend on the operation of the apparatus. When checking the truck, operate all mechanical equipment such as chain and circular saws, positive pressure fans, hydraulic auto ex tools, and thermal imaging cameras to ensure that they are working properly. Also check hand tools, medical bags, defibrillators, self-contained breathing apparatus bottles, nozzles, and hose.

(4) Quints such as this one have an option that will allow the nozzle to be in a rescue or water flow position. A locking pin is used to hold the nozzle assembly in either mode. While checking the truck, making sure the pin is secure in either position.


By checking the four areas, you will ensure that the apparatus is ready for service. It will also enable you to become familiar with it as well as the equipment on it. Too many firefighters and officers are not familiar with what their apparatus carries. By going back to the basics, we can train ourselves to be proficient with these important fire department tools. 


Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Pennwell).




Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Pennwell).




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