OLD FIRE ENGINES NEVER DIE— THEY MERELY FADE AWAY
Some Practical Hints and Helps on the Modern “Beauty Treatment” for Today’s and Yesterday’s Apparatus
FROM the days of the earliest hand pumpers and hose reels it has been a tradition to dress up fire apparatus and to keep it bright and shining. True, the fashions in apparatus are somewhat more conservative today than they were in the times before the fire horse—at least so far as their exterior motifs go, but there has been no concession to utility or anything else when it comes to the gleaming enamel finish and striping of the modern streamlined vehicle.
Who can say that this modern coat is any less attractive than the old dress merely because it is sprayed on, whereas the old finish was hand-rubbed? Who can say that modern chromium finish and trim is less attractive than the good old brass? Who will say that presentday gold striping and lettering is any less artistic than that of those early days, merely because it is less ornate? Who will say that, at least in the field of volunteer firemen, there is any lesser appreciation of fire apparatus simply because designers and builders of current fire apparatus have concentrated on utility and service first and, after that, appearance, whereas in olden days of the red shirts and the side-brake pumpers, appearance got the nod?
A considerable amount of time, effort and expense enter into the beautification of today’s fire apparatus. The volunteer as well as the professional fireman knows the psychology of dressing up his fire rigs, and of maintaining that smart, attractive exterior, come what may to the rest of the vehicle.
As one chief officer said: “You can’t tell the ability of a fire company to fight fire merely by looking at its apparatus— but you can get a pretty good idea. Show me a sloppy looking, unkempt piece of apparatus and I’ll gamble you’ll see sloppy and unkempt firemen. Further, if apparatus and men are sloppy and unkempt, you can bet the company does a sloppy, careless job of fire fighting.”
Perhaps our friend was a bit pessimistic, but it is a fact that even the finest finish on the finest apparatus will not care for itself. Somebody has to do the grooming. Somebody has to take an interest in the apparatus appearance, and wueld the sponge, chamois and soap. If nobody does it, the high lustre finish will dim and the lettering and striping disappear.
This isn’t always easy in the volunteer fire department where it is more difficult to get a crew to work on the cleaning up of a dirty fire truck than it is to get a crew to work on cleaning up a fire. “Committee work” in a paid department is just one of those things—the regular routine, dictated by departmental rules and regulations. But not many volunteer fire company regulations (by-laws) include provision for maintenance and upkeep.
Red is the prevailing finish for fire department vehicles. And of all the coatings that can be applied to fire apparatus, red is about the worst when it comes to standing up under the heat of the sun, the cold of winter, and the carelessness of caretakers.
No matter what the exterior trim and finish, careless maintenance will hasten deterioration of not only the body covering, but of the very metals and materials under the paint. A sign of deterioration is fading. The main causes of fading are sunlight and improper cleaning methods, or a combination of both.
When apparatus is new, the finish is easily affected until it becomes hardened, and washing for the first few months is very important. Perhaps we should qualify that and say proper washing is paramount. Frequent washing with lots of cool, clear water hardens the paint and keeps it from spotting. The treatment given the apparatus during this period will make a big difference in the life of the finish and. although waxing is important to prevent scratches and fading of the color, the finish must be thoroughly seasoned before it may be waxed. This seasoning may take four months, or even longer.
Apparatus should never be washed in the sun or while the hood is hot. The effect is the same as washing with hot water; it quickly dulls and cracks the finish. Soap, as well as hot water, has a tendency to dull the finish and remove wax from the surface.
Mud should never be rubbed off. In -stead. it should be soaked off with plenty of water and loosened with a sponge. According to most experts, tempered water may be used on the body in cold weatner and under the lenders at any time.
When the apparatus is exceptionally dirty all over, it may be necessary to use a mild detergent, preferably with a linseed oil base. Grease may be tackled with a detergent and water. It is good practice to keep a can of tar remover on hand for removing tar spots (an operation that takes a bit of doing).
There is a technique in using water as a wash. Very little pressure should be used when washing with a hose, as water under pressure can drive the grit and dirt into the finish, or it may enter under the hood to get on the “machinery” and do injury. For this reason it is better to use a sponge and not turn the hose upon the hood. For drying, it is preferable to use a clean chamois or soft towel, frequently wrung out in clean water (that last is important: there are varying definitions of what is “clean”).
If the apparatus is dirty, or if dust is the least bit heavy, the finish should always be washed and not wiped with a dry rag as is practiced by some slapdash “artists.” Dirt and mud are abrasive and will therefore scratch or dull the finish, especially during the first few months. For ordinary, light dusting, a soft rag is preferable to a feather duster and will reach into places where a feather duster can not. Mud should be w’ashed off apparatus as soon as possible and not left on until it dries hard, in which event it is almost certain to remove or dim the luster of the finish.
A rather common failing in some fire departments is to locate the apparatus on the apparatus floor, too near the doors through which bright sun may center on it. The same sun coming through a window day after day will have a bad effect on the finish. Incidentally, the nearer the doors the apparatus is placed, the more difficult it is to start the motor in winter. Most drivers know the answer to that one. By the same token, such locations may be bad for the appearance of the vehicle. Grit and mud are the chief causes of w-ear in fire apparatus running gear. If the equipment is cleaned after every run, the life of the apparatus, and the finish, should be considerably prolonged.
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This question of cleaning after every run introduces the problem of who’s going to do it—especially in the volunteer fire department having no paid clrivers or caretakers. Everybody’s business is nobody’s business when it comes to maintenance of fire apparatus. The cleaning and tidying-up of apparatus and equipment after a prolonged, tiring workout is distasteful, if not downright obnoxious to most fire fighters—paid and volunteer. But it is a job that must be done. If postponed, the problem becomes all the more acute, and there is always the possibility that equipment may fail because of a shortcoming which the after-the-run inspection and cleaning up might have disclosed.
The majority of the smart volunteer departments establish just who is to do the cleaning and maintenance work, and when and how it is to be done. No credit for attendance at the fire is given unless members attend to their delegated duties of “committee work.” There are usually more members of a company on hand after a run than at any other time except meetings, and at the risk of displeasing some, they should get to work on the apparatus until it is in shape for the next alarm or inspection. Naturally, the regulations or orders should see to it that the “housework” is evenly distributed among all hands, and does not become a burden on a few willing workers.
It is considered good practice to wash the tires, wheels, running boards, and under the fenders after each run, using a mild detergent and warm water, if needed. The body may be wiped off with a soft dry rag, except where muddy or dirty. On such spots, washing with clear water and a sponge is required.
If the entire truck needs washing, it is advisable to place the vehicle in the shade until the hood cools. However, if the apparatus has been run in the rain, the hood may be cool enough to give it a going over upon return to quarters.
A practice followed by a number of companies is worth emphasizing. This is to carry a rag, or rags, on the apparatus to be used to clean the booster hose at the fire as it is being re-wound.
In addition to being cleaned after runs, the apparatus should receive a periodic cleaning, preferably weekly, and should be dusted every day. The cleaning of hose and other equipment on the apparatus is another task, not within the scope of this message. It should be pointed out, however, that where runs are infrequent and dirt will collect on the equipment, tools and fittings of apparatus as well as on the body. Because of this fact, cleaning maintenance should not stop with the wiping off of the body and trim, lights and so on, but should include the whole ensemble. In this connection, some departments follow the practice of periodically removing ladders and tools and other equipment from the apparatus for cleaning and inspection, not only of the equipment, but of the racks, rollers, clamps and other holders. Some volunteer companies follow the practice of conducting this indoor inspection and cleaning on days when outside drills cannot be conducted.
The possibility of the finish fading because of the sun focussed through windows has been mentioned. This handicap is more acute where the fire stations are so built that they face the south or west so that the apparatus may be bathed in sunlight most of the day, if it is too near the doors, or windows. Some fire station designers recommend lots of glass in fire station doors, and overlook the possible injury this may cause to apparatus trim, as well as the heating problem it creates. If some glass must be used to furnish light, it is considered advisable not to have it placed too high on the doors. As previously mentioned, keeping the body finish coated with wax does much toward protecting it from the harmful effects of the sun.
Chrome parts need only be cleaned and waxed with the rest of the apparatus and require no special attention unless neglected. Any acceptable chrome polish, will bring it up if it is in bad shape, but too much washing, especially with abrasive polishes, will wear away the surface plating. Anv good nolish may be used to shine brass and nickel parts, but care should be taken not to get polish on the paint surfaces. If apparatus is kept clean, there will be little need for using a cleaning agent before applying wax. Waxing the finish and chrome parts with a good brand of wax should be done two or three times a year. Cleaners remove a certain amount of the surface every time they are applied to the paint and they are therefore no help to the protecting coat of varnish given the gold leaf used for stripes and lettering. It is better practice to avoid their use.
A small supply of paint to matoh the finish on the apparatus usually can be purchased from the manufacturer and this can be kept on hand for touching up scratches or for repainting where the finish may be badly damaged. However, it is well to remember that in the latter case, if there is a body repair or paint shop in the vicinity, it may be advisable to refer this work to the professional.
Suitable paint is available from any paint or automobile parts store for use on running boards, rear steps and tires. Recently, touch-up kits for repairing damaged gold stripes and letters with genuine gold leaf have appeared on the market. These kits have limited applications and any extensive touch-up operation should be referred to a regular striper or sign painter.
Finally, proper maintenance calls for keeping all mechanical operating parts, as well as the under side of hoods and pans, free of grease, oil and dirt. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” may apply to the overhauling and cleaning of these “hidden” details but it is perhaps even more important that these items receive proper maintenance than it is to maintain the “outward appearances.
In a day when apparatus budgets are being held to the minimum and deliveries of new equipment for departments fortunate enough to get it on order as well as for replacement parts, are being slowed, it behooves all fire officials to maintain their rolling stock in the best possible condition. It is well to remember that fire apparatus deteriorates and “fades away” in its inactive state—as well as from wear in actual use.