Are you sure your maintenance checks are current?
Thursday, October 15, 2015
What's cheaper — fighting a fire or preventing one? While the answer is obvious, the same line of reasoning somehow seems to elude fire departments when it comes to maintenance of their apparatus and equipment.
Why? In part, it's because of the proverbial "head in the sand" mentality to ignore issues that aren't imminent threats. Adding to the mix is the workload of today's firefighters, who generally are focused most on acute challenges, not potential problems.
Finally, there's often a sense of complacency because of reliance on technology to warn of imminent threats. What this doesn't take into account is there aren’t warning systems for many issues warranting maintenance. And sometimes, the warning technology itself malfunctions.
Armed with this "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, some fire departments wait until smoldering maintenance problems burst into flames (literally or figuratively) before addressing them. And once they do, it can get very costly very quickly — in terms of impact on people, property and the department's reputation.
Anyone who has experienced a truck that breaks down en route or a pumper that malfunctions due to maintenance neglect will attest the ramifications and costs can just keep adding up.
An NFPA 1911 white paper about inspection, maintenance, testing and retirement of fire apparatus addresses both the need for timely maintenance and immediately searchable maintenance records. The paper notes in part:
"The need to have fully inspected, tested and maintained emergency response vehicles is unprecedented. Recent emergency response vehicle accidents and lawsuits have brought to the forefront the need for a professionally maintained fleet. A poor PM program, no PM program at all, and/or unqualified technicians is a recipe for disaster.
"Any of these issues may lead to unsafe vehicles, increased maintenance costs and reduced apparatus life. Along with these negatives, come the risk of accidents, lawsuits, lower morale and public distrust. Firefighter safety is of the utmost concern and poorly maintained emergency response vehicles put everyone at risk."
The paper continues: "An accident caused by loss of brakes or broken components would be devastating. The heartache of a LODD is followed by board of inquires, legal investigations and NIOSH investigation into the cause of the accidents. Every aspect of the vehicle and agency will be looked at; including, but not limited to, records, documentation, qualifications of technicians, fleet department operations, testing, operator training and department policies.
"The publicity following an accident is negative for the department and personnel. No one wants to see a picture of a ladder truck driven into a building or have to answer in court why NFPA 1911, a national accepted ANSI standard, was not used to ensure the apparatus was maintained properly, tested and safe to operate."
A 2014 Transmission & Distribution World report supports the importance of preventive fleet maintenance. Among the report's recommendations are importance of timeliness and communication: "It’s often easier to deal with small issues rather than wait to have a component fail and then face the consequences. Keep the lines of communication open. Maintenance intervals are often suitable opportunities for the truck's operating crew and the company's service technician or mechanic to have an open discussion about how the truck is being used, the conditions it's operating in and how it's performing."
All this being said, here are questions tied to your current paper maintenance logbook system:
- Are you totally up to date on all checks and repairs?
- If something isn't being handled, how do you know?
- Can you find historical maintenance and service records on a particular apparatus or piece of equipment on a moment's notice?
- Is everyone who needs to be in the same communication loop about maintenance checks up to date?
- How will you solve problems documenting, finding or sharing critical maintenance information?
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