Motivating for Better Maintenance

Motivating for Better Maintenance

Apparatus & Equipment

THE FRANKFORT Fire Department, a 45-member volunteer department located 40 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois, had a small-scale apparatus/equipment maintenance program. Two times a month, one fire apparatus engineer (FAE) would check an assigned vehicle against a list of parts to determine what repairs were necessary. This was coupled with yearly maintenance-oil changes, lubrications, tuneups, and so on.

As time went on, the number of apparatus grew to include three engines, two tankers, two heavy-rescue units, two light-rescue units, and one grass-fire unit. The amount of equipment on the apparatus grew as well, and the small number of FAEs could not keep up with the demand for regular maintenance.

Apparatus and equipment began to deteriorate, and the final straw came during a recruit training session on SCBAs, when 10 of 12 air packs used in demonstrations were significantly low on air and masks were not clean. This prompted the department’s assistant chief of operations to devise a new maintenance program.


The rationale behind this program is that everyone, not just the FAE, is responsible for apparatus and equipment because everyone uses them. Now a team is assigned to each vehicle, consisting of an FAE or operator, an officer, and one to three firefighters. Emergency medical personnel are assigned to vehicles involved in rescue or emergency medical service. All fire department members are assigned to a vehicle. The number of personnel assigned to a vehicle is determined by the type of apparatus. For example, more people arc assigned to an engine because it requires more maintenance and equipment than a light-duty rescue unit.

A new vehicle evaluation form is an important part of the program. This form incorporates most of the information on the original checklist. Equipment and apparatus are checked for cleanliness, operation, missing parts, and other problems. The chief officers—chief, deputy chief, and assistant chief—who serve as inspectors in this program use the evaluation forms. Toward the end of each month, one of the chief officers inspects each vehicle. The evaluation form is both a checklist and the team’s “report card.”

The points for each vehicle are totaled and converted to a percentage, lhe percentages for each of the vehicles are ranked on a sheet from highest to lowest. These rankings are then posted on the apparatus floor of each station.

Copies of the evaluation sheets are given to each team member The team members themselves then usually begin correcting the apparatus/equipment problems or bring the problems to the attention of an engineering division officer. Team members often persist with requests for repairs until such repairs are completed.

The last step in the new maintenance program is rewarding the best-maintained vehicle each month. Each winning team member receives an award for the best-maintained vehicle, ranging from special fire department caps to gift certificates for local restaurants and ice cream parlors. In addition, a 12-inch by 12-inch magnetic Maltese cross, lettered “F.F.P.D. Pride,” is hung on the best-maintained vehicle for the entire month.


As with all new programs, we expected problems. First, we had to persuade the Frankfort Fire Protection District trustees that it would be worthwhile to allocate funds for this program. After we presented the FAFs’ request for funding the program and a list of high-priority and low-priority repairs for each piece of fire apparatus and equipment, the trustees approved the program on a sixmonth trial basis. Funding, from the fire apparatus maintenance budget line, went toward the purchase of cleaning and polishing agents, sponges, new chamois, paint, replacement parts, other supplies, the monthly awards, and repairs that could not be done at the fire station. While the initial expenditures were quite large, costs have lowered considerably. After six months, the trustees allowed the program to continue.

Acquiring supplies was a twofold problem: Team members wanted the supplies immediately and we had trouble deciding which brands to purchase. One of the engineering division officers was put in charge of ordering supplies. All requests were to be forwarded to him in writing, and he would obtain the items as soon as possible, after consulting knowledgeable people as to the best brands.

A third hurdle in the system was complaints that some personnel who responded to an emergency in a vehicle maintained by another team did not clean the apparatus or equipment properly after the call. We sent out letters to fire department members reminding them that any vehicle responding to an emergency should be cleaned and properly put into service, but the problem continued. So we gave the vehicle’s FAE/operator the authority to hold the responding company until the vehicle was properly put back into service. Again, that didn’t work. We tried giving the FAE/operator and the officer assigned to each team the authority to call back the responding members to do a better job of cleanup. However, these measures still have not solved the problem entirely. Our only choices now are to take this into account during the inspection or to take disciplinary action.

Another snag in the program was that the evaluators were not consistent in their inspections. Originally, the vehicles were split among the three chief officers to inspect each month. Because the chief officers have different interests in the fire service, they approached inspections from different viewpoints. To remedy this problem, we changed the system so that each chief officer was assigned a month in which he would inspect all of the vehicles.

We originally did not set a specific time for inspections in hope that apparatus would be kept clean throughout the month, not just during inspection time. However, this did not sit well with the teams. They wanted a more specific time set so they could schedule repairs accordingly. Now inspections are made during the final week of each month and announced on the weekly pager test as a reminder.


We ran into another problem concerning cleaning. Originally the FAE checked the roof and engine compartment of each vehicle for cleanliness. However, the FAEs felt that it was too dangerous to have somebody up on a ladder cleaning the roof; also, walking on the roof left depressions in the metal. Further damage can be caused by “overcleaning” the engine compartment. Clearly, we had to alter the inspection sheet to reflect these potential cleaning difficulties.

We may not have solved all the problems, and surely more will arise in the future. However, it is the responsibility of the engineering division officers and the chief officers to work together to solve these problems.


Since the program’s inception a year ago, we have seen a tremendous change in both the cleanliness and operation of the fire apparatus and equipment. We have also instituted a self-contained breathing apparatus maintenance program (including inspection by the manufacturer on some of the older units), a complete preventive vehicle maintenance program contracted with a local auto repair shop, and a ladder testing program. The body work will most likely extend the usefulness of these vehicles for at least a few more years.

You can vary this maintenance program in several ways. You can assign the teams to different vehicles after a while. The advantage of this is that everyone becomes more familiar with the operation of each piece of fire apparatus, the equipment stored on the apparatus, and the operation of that equipment. This also breeds new ideas from rotating team members. Or, you can change teams entirely or partially. Changing teams entirely is only really appropriate when there is a significant turnover in membership or a new piece of apparatus purchased. However, partially changing teams—leaving the FAEs and officers together but changing the firefighters—allows firefighters to become familiar with the various pieces of equipment as well as the apparatus. This also promotes teamwork.

By holding all the firefighters responsible for maintenance of the fire apparatus and equipment, we gave them the opportunity to express themselves regarding the proper placement of fire and rescue equipment, ordering equipment, marking equipment and new hoselays, and so on. They generated many good ideas once they were given the opportunity to participate. This program succeeded in motivating the firefighters: Repairs that they ask for are done, they are rew arded for exceptional maintenance, they are more conscientious of the condition of the fire apparatus and equipment, they set an example for the new recruits, and they enjoy the competition between the teams; and maybe most important, now the talk on the apparatus floor is full of pride and not complaints.

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