BY DON KIRKHAM
Before we discuss the benefits of a designatED support services/facility officer, we need to describe the role and responsibilities of such a position.
Since many fire departments have millions of dollars invested in their physical facilities and the infrastructure supporting their operation, it is essential they have one person who is responsible for those investments.
Although such responsibilities may be as varied as each department, a support services/facility officer would be responsible for the safe and efficient operation of the department’s facilities, systems, real estate, grounds, and utilities. This person may also assume tactical responsibility for equipment, This article focuses on facilities, systems, and grounds.
Grounds maintenance. The grounds include all real estate that is in the care, custody, and control of the department. The facility officer’s responsibilities include arranging for grass cutting, landscaping, sprinkler operation, snow removal, and arbor care, to name a few. If these services are subcontracted out, the officer would monitor the quality and cost of the services to be provided. If the local jurisdiction uses its own personnel to maintain the grounds, a regularly scheduled maintenance program will enhance the natural beauty of the department’s grounds.
Asphalt and concrete drives, aprons, approaches/exits, and parking lots must be maintained and a preventive maintenance program must be developed. Creating a proactive parking lot maintenance program is not difficult; however, it is vital for preserving the asphalt’s integrity. As with any construction project, a firm foundation is paramount to ensuing the longevity of a parking lot or drive. Since there are different base materials, thicknesses, compaction standards, and various asphalt combinations, it is best to consult a reputable contractor or engineer before beginning the project. When sealing asphalt, consult a qualified person to assist in specifying types of products before applying the material. A preventive maintenance program will greatly enhance the asphalt or concrete’s lifespan.
Building exterior. Fire stations come in every size, configuration, and color. In almost all cases they have four walls, a roof, floors, and overhead doors. Proper maintenance of the exterior is money well spent. Repairing and replacing cracked caulking pays huge benefits in long-term maintenance costs. Preventing water and other damage is much less costly than repairing it later.
Many stations have flat or slightly pitched roof structures with membrane roofs that are mechanically fastened to the structure or weighted with gravel. Such roof systems are prone to punctures if they are not properly maintained during routine service work.
HVAC rooftop units. Servicing rooftop high-velocity air conditioning (HVAC) units can be tricky. An easy way to maintain the roof integrity and service the HVAC system is to use walk mats that offer a path to the units and a path around them, thus preventing accidental puncture of the membrane. All HVAC service personnel should be aware when removing inspection panels from the units that sharp corners can damage the roof.
The facility officer should have a complete list of all HVAC equipment information, including motor size, full load amperage, voltage, horsepower, model and serial numbers, belt sizes, filter sizes and numbers, and whether it has a central lubrication system or individual grease fittings (zerks) and how many. If the HVAC is on a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, the facility officer should know how to program the supply air temperature and room set point (both heat and cool) and return air temperature and be familiar with economizer mode and operation for starters.
Many SCADA programs are accessible on the Internet for 24/7 viewing. Some have alarm capabilities to detect and announce problems long before they are apparent to the occupants. Computerized controls of HVAC units can significantly reduce energy usage with night setback capabilities; slow ramp-up of temperature; and the ability to measure daytime warm-up requirements, weekend setback points, and a myriad of other features.
Employing an aggressive maintenance program, including filter changes, will reduce operating costs and increase the living environment quality. The A/C condensing coils must be properly maintained and cleaned to operate at top efficiency. If the coil fins become dented or misaligned, sometimes they can be “combed” back to shape by a professional HVAC technician, who could determine if there has been significant damage to warrant replacement. If the damage was caused by a hailstorm, investigate your property insurance carrier to see if there is coverage under your policy. The HVAC electrical disconnect switch should be operated at least annually to ensure it is in proper working order. Fans above the ceiling in conference rooms and elsewhere in the building may require quarterly maintenance; they should not be forgotten.
Electrical switch gear inspection and operation. National Fire Protection Association 70B, Recommended Practice for Electrical Equipment Maintenance, addresses the inspection and exercising of the equipment. I suggest a thermal imaging camera scan at least every three years, if not more often. The thermal scan will detect problems before they occur. Cleaning, exercising, and inspection of all electrical gear should be performed annually. This includes throwing every breaker, checking connections for tightness, grounding connections, and maintaining clearances in the front of and on the sides of all panels. If the station has a backup generator, testing and exercising it to near capacity and verifying transfer switch operation are essential. This is a good opportunity to confirm the actual load on the generator and check fuel status and other fluid levels. Monthly operation of the ground fault circuit interrupters will confirm that they are in working order.
Utilities. The facility officer should have a map and photos indicating where every utility comes into the premises from the street. Keep a copy of the map and photos off-site at a secure location, in case something happens to the copy on-site. The map will provide distances, depths, references from known structures, contact names and numbers, sizes of pipes, voltages, amperages, phases, and so forth. The facility map will show where and how these utilities enter the structure.
Many districts allow for the negotiation of natural gas and electric energy consumption. Natural gas contracts are generally best consummated before Labor Day for the next year. Multiyear contracts are desirable during these times of quickly escalating prices. You can obtain a price break if you join with several other departments and negotiate a natural gas contract, which would be based on a much larger quantity. Each department would still pay only for the gas it uses, but at a much better rate.
Plumbing. The facility officer should be familiar with the points at which these utilities enter the building. Many stations have oil-water separators to keep oil from entering the sanitary sewer system. Knowing where and how they operate is important. Some communities require periodic sampling of effluent, and understanding where the inspection port is located can be very helpful. The facility officer should know where all plumbing cleanouts are located. Some plumbing traps can dry out and allow sewer gas to enter the building. A monthly routine of putting water in seldom-used traps is a good preventive maintenance function.
Maintaining the station sump pump is an often overlooked duty. Inspect the check valve for deterioration, check the seals for cracking or leaking, check the age of the pump, ensure that the electrical connections are secure, and evaluate its general condition. I suggest a second or backup sump pump powered from the backup generator. A high-level alarm is also useful in alerting the duty crew to possible trouble. This alarm can be on the SCADA system as well.
Floor maintenance. An aggressive carpet-cleaning program will pay for itself many times over in extended carpet life. Keeping carpet clean is not only environmentally friendly, but it also extends the life of the carpet greatly. Following the manufacturer’s instructions for tile and other hard surfaces makes them visually appealing and also extends their life.
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The facility officer should formulate a cohesive and comprehensive maintenance plan that ensures the highest efficiency and greatest economy for operating your multimillion-dollar facility. This position will more than pay for itself in reduced costs and increased efficiencies. The savings would be roughly three times the salary-a very good investment. ■
■ DON KIRKHAM is a retired firefighter/medic from the Delaware City (OH) Fire Department. He has a bachelor of science degree in fire science and in engineering, a master’s degree in public administration, and a Ph.D. in business administration. Kirkham is facility manager for Velocys, a research and development company, and was the construction project manager for Ohio University’s newest satellite campus in Pickerington, Ohio.