Fire Company Management

Fire Company Management

Part 6: Care of Apparatus and Equipment

Director Department of Fire Protection Prince George’s County, Md.

While it is realized that major repairs to apparatus and equipment are not made at the company level, there is much to be done in the company in the way of careful operation and preventive maintenance that will add to the life and effective use of apparatus and the equipment carried.

The rewards for preventive maintenance are freedom from breakdown and longer trouble-free performance. The importance of good maintenance cannot be overemphasized. Of all the vehicles in public and private use, there are none whose breakdown can be more calamitous than that of fire apparatus.

The amount of attention needed by the apparatus in quarters does not require much time. A daily check of important items and an additional check after each run can be quickly performed and may result in the discovery of defects before damage is done.

Daily check list

A daily check should be made at the same time every day (right after roll call seems to be the preferred time) to insure that it will not be overlooked. The officer should accompany the driver or pump operator in making the check, and the results should be recorded.

The following items should be included:

Battery—Solution should be tested with hydrometer and should be at proper level.

Ignition system—Inspect for loose connections, damaged wires, etc.

Steering Mechanism—Test by turning steering wheel and inspect by observation of visible parts.

Brakes—If air brakes, pressure gage should be read and pressure brought up to desired amount by running engine. The air reservoir must be bled of moisture occasionally. Hydraulic brake systems should be inspected for sufficient fluid and the pedal tested.

Tires—Tires should be examined for cuts or other damage as well as inflation to proper air pressure.

Oil—The oil level in the crankcase should be measured and fresh oil added whenever needed.

Fuel—Tank should be kept full.

Radiator—Note water level and replenish if necessary. Check for leaks and loose connections. If antifreeze is used, test specific gravity in winter.

Hand holds—The bars or straps that are used by the men for holding onto the apparatus when riding should be examined to make sure they are secure.

Lights—Try them. Replace burnedout bulbs.

Warning signals—Try and examine.

Radios—Most fire departments test radios by sending and receiving test signals at a specified time.

Booster tanks—Filled to proper level.

Breathing masks—Note condition. If compressed air or oxygen type, the pressure gage should be read and the cylinder replaced if it contains less than desired pressure. With the canister type, canisters should be replaced if there is any indication that serviceability is not certain.

In addition to the above, it should be noted whether all nozzles, hose, tools, extinguishers, electricity generators and other appliances are in their proper places in good operating condition.

If the apparatus is a pumper, all valves, throttles, and other controls should be in the proper positions.

Ladder truck inspection

If it is a ladder truck, the number of ladders and their condition should be noted as well as their positions on the truck and the condition and positions of devices that hold the ladders in place.

On an aerial truck, the aerial ladder and its operating controls should be properly positioned. If a tiller wheel is present, its steering mechanism should be examined and tried.

The old custom of starting the engine in the morning to see if it will run is no longer recommended. Running the engine for only a few minutes may cause condensation which combines with sulfur in the oil and forms a sulfuric acid that may create pits in cylinder walls. Condensation and raw gasoline also combine with oil to form sludge which settles in the crankcase.

If sufficient sludge accumulates, it may damage the engine.

Whenever the engine is started, it should be run long enough to evaporate the condensation. The necessary time recommended by experts varies considerably. It is generally held that it should be long enough for the engine to reach its normal operating temperature.

Trouble warnings

The various gages that appear on the instrument panel of the apparatus are valuable guides to the cause of trouble and warnings of potential trouble. Some of the symptoms and causes are given below:

  1. Low oil pressure—Low oil level, broken oil line, badly worn bearings or cylinder walls.
  2. Overheated engine—Broken fan belt, lack of water in cooling system, low oil level, poor timing.
  3. Brake air pressure—If needle is low and running the engine does not increase the pressure, there is a break in the air line or the compressor is defective. It is not safe to drive the apparatus.
  4. Ammeter—Low charge rate shows that battery is well charged; a high rate indicates that the battery is low (if apparatus has automatic voltage control).
  5. Noticeable symptoms

    Other common trouble symptoms that are not shown on gages but are noticeable through operational changes include the following:

    1. Scraping noise when brakes are applied—Rivet or stone may be in lining or lining is worn down to metal.
    2. Engine missing, overheating, black exhaust—Carburetor mixture is too rich.
    3. Backfiring—Carburetor mixture is too lean.
    4. Unevenly worn tire—Misaligned wheel or underinflated tire.
    5. Engine fails to start—Causes may be broken down into two categories:
  6. Fuel
    1. Cylinders flooded with gasoline. Remedy is to step on throttle and starter, turning engine over until condition clears.
    2. No gasoline.
    3. continued on next page

    4. Water or dirt in gasoline.
    5. Carburetor not adjusted properly.
    6. Carburetor or gas line frozen.
    7. Throttle disconnected.
  7. Ignition
    1. Switch not on.
    2. Loose or corroded battery terminal.
    3. Weak battery.
    4. Dirt between breaker points of distributor.
    5. Fouled or broken spark plugs.
    6. Defective coil.
    7. Defective condenser.
    8. Loose or broken wiring.

Check after each run

The items mentioned in the daily check can be modified to be applied as a check after each run. The modification depends largely upon the amount of work the apparatus performed and the length of time it was out of quarters. If a pumper has been pumping for a few hours, it will naturally require more serious attention then if it has just been out on a run of a few minutes duration. Such items as the replacement of fuel and oil used, and the replenishment of extinguishers, booster tanks, etc., assume more importance after a period of service at a fire than some of the other items of the daily check.

If the pump has been used, the suction inlet strainer should be checked for clogging sediment. The faces of discharge valves should be cleaned and lubricated. Oil should be added to the primer pump, and lubrication given to pumps and the governor or relief valve if manufacturer’s manual recommends such lubrication.

Careful operation

Careful driving and operation at fires will result in longer apparatus life, less trouble and greater safety.

When pumping at fires, pumping at excessive speeds and pressures should be avoided. On a multi-stage pump, the best position is the one which gives the desired delivery at the lowest engine speed (rpm). It is not a good practice to operate a pump at its maximum pressure nor is it good for the pump to operate from a hydrant with a residual pressure below 10 psi.

On pumpers equipped with pump governors, some operators pull the throttle all the way out and let the governor control the engine speed. This presents the possibility of damage to the engine from excessive speed if a hose bursts and the engine speeds up trying to meet the suddenly increased demand that it can’t supply.

Copyright 1970 by William E. Clark

Fire Company Management


Fire Company Management

Part 5: Safety

The fireman’s job is admittedly hazardous. The risks and discomforts suffered at a stubborn fire are unique and unknown to any other peacetime occupation. However, the number of injuries to firemen can be held to a minimum by a good safety program.

This should be especially effective in quarters. There may be a good reason for a man getting hurt at a fire, but there’s seldom an acceptable excuse for an accident in the fire station.

The key to an effective safety program is the development of the proper attitude in the men. This takes time to become fully effective, but some beneficial results may show right from the start. If officers get right behind the program and look for safety hazards frequently, they will develop a safety consciousness that will enable them to discover and correct many hazards that might have caused injuries.

It is argued that accidents don’t happen, they are caused. They are caused by unsafe acts, unsafe conditions, or both together. The alert officer will be on the lookout for both of these factors.

Unsafe conditions

Unsafe conditions include any defective equipment or such things around quarters as broken steps, defective doors, articles left where they could be tripped over or could fall on someone, or other conditions that could cause injury.

Typical unsafe acts encountered in the fire station include: working from an improperly stabilized ladder, washing the outside of windows without a safety belt, cleaning with gasoline, carrying a heavy object without proper precautions or assistance, and carelessly using the sliding pole.

This last is one of the leading causes of serious injuries in the fire station. So many have been killed or injured while sliding the pole that many departments have built elaborate safeguards to prevent pole hole accidents.

These accidents may be divided into two categories: first, where a man unwittingly steps into an unguarded pole hole, and second, where a man is injured in the act of sliding. The way to prevent the former is to provide builtin protection in the form of guardrails or enclosures. The second demands training in proper sliding technique and a continual effort to apply it.

Psychological factors

It has been said that some men are accident prone. They seem to have a tendency toward getting hurt. There are certain factors contributing to accidents that are influenced by a person’s state of mind. Lack of forethought is one; a man goes ahead with an act without stopping to think of the possible consequences. Inattention to the job at hand is another. Unfortunately, the latter often occurs when an intelligent, imaginative person is performing a routine task; his mind tends to wander to other thoughts. It is not easy to eliminate these factors, but an analysis of each accident may disclose some interesting facts which possibly will lead to corrective action.

Every accident or injury should be investigated and analyzed with the thought of preventing future accidents through application of the lessons learned.

Injuries at fire

Many of the minor injuries that occur at fires can be prevented. Most of them are caused by undue haste and excitement. Falls are common cause. Men crowding each other also breeds injuries.

Before a man starts to swing an ax, he should extend it slowly and carefully to the limit of his reach to make sure that no one is in its path. When men are working together with tools, good coordination is essential to prevent injury. The officer must see that this coordination is maintained and his orders should be obeyed implicitly because a slight deviation can mean an injury.

The officer who grabs a tool and works with it is not doing his job. The duty of an officer is to supervise. If he is taking part in the work, he cannot supervise properly. He is not doing justice to his men because one of his duties is to watch for their safety, and he cannot do this effectively while taking an active part in the work.

It has long been maintained, and with some justification, that most injuries to firemen at fires occur after the fire is out. There is no need to work under pressure during the overhauling stage and officers should exercise care to prevent injuries then. Men should not be allowed to work too close together, work areas should be illuminated to provide good visibility, and protective clothing should be worn.

The wearing of goggles or eyeshields during overhauling will reduce the serious percentage of eye injuries incurred during this stage.

Hand and foot protection

Some other protective devices include puncture-proof insoles for boots, books reinforced at the toe area, and work gloves. Of course, helmets should be worn. The value of breathing apparatus should not have to be mentioned here except to remind everyone that its safe use required good maintenance and training.

Rubber clothing should not be worn in direct contact with the skin. Many firemen have been burned this way. Insulation or other clothing should be worn between the rubber and skin.

Most fire departments favor black clothing. This is unsafe for two reasons. First, the man in black is hard to see. This results in injuries and furthermore it is difficult to find an injured and unconscious fireman. Second, black absorbs a maximum of radiated heat.

The ideal color for fire clothing is yellow. Yellow gives high visibility and absorbs a minimum of heat. Eventually our fire departments may realize that tradition has foisted upon them black, the worst possible color for fire clothes, and get around to making some much needed changes.

Highway safety

Year after year, many firemen are injured in highway accidents involving their apparatus. It is expected that fire apparatus will move fast to get to a fire where life may be in danger. However, reasonable care should be exercised to avoid accidents. It will not do the entrapped fire victim any good if the apparatus and men speeding to his rescue become involved in a collision.

Company officers should use discretion in setting speed limits for their drivers. Circumstances differ with locality and time of day. Officers who insist on observing regular speed limits usually find that they are delaying civilian traffic because it is an American custom to exceed the speed limit slightly. The factors that should determine speed are age and braking ability of the apparatus, skill of the driver, roadway and traffic conditions, visibility and weather.

The routes of other apparatus and the chances of meeting them—especially if you or they are late or early—should be considered. A collision of two pieces of apparatus is a difficult accident to justify.

Being right isn’t enough

The siren and bells are not license for reckless driving, and right of way should not be taken for granted. In an accident, one can be 100 percent right and still become 100 percent dead. The careful driver considers that the other fellow may be deaf, drunk or stupid.

Driving a large, heavy fire apparatus through traffic calls for considerable skill. Drivers should be carefully selected, with great emphasis upon ability and temperament, and thouroughly trained:

The company officer can do the following to prevent injuries:

1. Inspect apparatus and equipment frequently and regularly to check the following:

a. Apparatus—brakes, tires, steering, hand holds, ladder holders, etc.

b. Ladders—splits, splinters, broken or loose rungs and pawls

c. Tools—loose or broken handles, splinters, other defects

d. Personal gear—condition of helmets, boots, hose straps, ladder belts, etc.

e. Mask—examined frequently, tested occasionally

f. Quarters—Condition of stairs, doors, poles, floors, etc.

2. Make safety recommendations to superiors.

3. Instill a safety consciousness in subordinates through discussion, instruction and example.

4. Be alert for unsafe acts and stop them before injury occurs.

5. Correct unsafe conditions in quarters; warn against them at fires.

Copyright 1970 by William E. Clark