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.
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:
- Low oil pressure—Low oil level, broken oil line, badly worn bearings or cylinder walls.
- Overheated engine—Broken fan belt, lack of water in cooling system, low oil level, poor timing.
- 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.
- 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).
- Scraping noise when brakes are applied—Rivet or stone may be in lining or lining is worn down to metal.
- Engine missing, overheating, black exhaust—Carburetor mixture is too rich.
- Backfiring—Carburetor mixture is too lean.
- Unevenly worn tire—Misaligned wheel or underinflated tire.
- Engine fails to start—Causes may be broken down into two categories:
- Cylinders flooded with gasoline. Remedy is to step on throttle and starter, turning engine over until condition clears.
- No gasoline.
- Water or dirt in gasoline.
- Carburetor not adjusted properly.
- Carburetor or gas line frozen.
- Throttle disconnected.
- Switch not on.
- Loose or corroded battery terminal.
- Weak battery.
- Dirt between breaker points of distributor.
- Fouled or broken spark plugs.
- Defective coil.
- Defective condenser.
- Loose or broken wiring.
Other common trouble symptoms that are not shown on gages but are noticeable through operational changes include the following:
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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 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