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Pre-Trip Inspections

February 13th, 2012

by Ralph Craven

Most fire departments have a program in place that requires daily inspections, often referred to as “Pre-trip inspections” of the fire apparatus that the department has in service. These programs also have inspection forms that list all of the things that need to be checked and inspected on a daily basis. On the other hand, there are departments around the country that do not have inspection programs. It is these departments that are playing dangerous games with the lives of the firefighters that ride the apparatus and the citizens they are sworn to protect.

Recently a large metropolitan fire department had an accident when one of its ladder trucks lost its brakes, careened down a hill and struck a building killing the officer instantly. It was discovered during the course of the investigation that the department did not have a maintenance shop and only fixed the trucks after they broke. Also, they did not do daily inspections of the apparatus. When the trucks needed to be repaired they were sent to outside vendors.

The department hired an outside consultant to review their “Maintenance Practices” after the fatal crash. The Consultant concluded:

  • The department does not have a professional fleet manager.
  • The department does not have a vehicle inspection program.
  • The department does not have a daily inspection report.
  • The department does have a procedure in place to report vehicle defects.

Although there was a procedure to report vehicle defects it was not being utilized because the firefighters had a fear of the apparatus being out of service for long periods of time. Some repairs took over four months to complete and in one instance the apparatus was gone for almost a year. Other issues the consultant pointed out was the fact that there was no inhouse technical expertise to determine what service may be needed and when an apparatus did come back from a vendor, there was no inspection to determine if the work had been completed.

Citizens expect that the fire apparatus will be maintained and is operational when an emergency arises.

NFPA Standard 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, requires that a department have a preventative maintenance program in place for their apparatus. In addition to what the NFPA recommends, the manufacturer of the apparatus and all of the components on that truck have maintenance cycles that need to be followed by the department. Also in NFPA 1911 there are items that are referred to as “Out of Service” criteria. These items are adapted from Title 49CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 393. In other words when an inspection is being performed if one of these items are found, the vehicle is placed out of service.

The daily inspection form typically has a series of boxes that need to be checked when the item is in compliance with the daily inspection program. How many departments have guidelines in place that describe what the inspector is looking for on the vehicle? How many departments have guidelines in place when something is found on a piece of apparatus that meets the “Out of Service” criteria? Is the vehicle taken out of service or does it remain in service because they do not want to drive the reserve? When a department does have an accident, attorneys are going to ask for copies of the vehicle maintenance program, the daily inspection sheets, and the repair orders. The department will be judged against all of the standards that are in place, the manufacturers requirements, and other requirements that are applicable to the accident.

One department had the air bag suspension changed on their aerial device several months ago. During the course of repairs the brake chambers were removed from the brackets to remove the air bags. The truck was returned to the station and the vehicle was put in service. Several months later an aerial inspection firm was inspecting the aerial chassis and discovered that one of the brake chambers was not bolted to the brackets, it was just hanging there. The mechanics did not check their work when they were done and the firefighters did not do a daily or weekly inspection for several months. This department was extremely lucky. What is really significant about this incident is that the drivers are required to have commercial drivers license in this state which requires a Pre-Trip Inspection prior to operation.

Many accidents are attributed to driver error. Many departments place newly hired people into the driver seat without any training whatsoever. They get out of their mini-truck and jump into the cab of a 70000 pound aerial truck. The majority of operators do not know how to check brakes and brake adjustment which puts them, the passengers on the truck, and the citizenry which they serve in jeopardy. In 2009 in the southwest a driver was charged with vehicular homicide after an accident. In the east a driver was charged with vehicular homicide, he was acquitted but was convicted of careless driving and running a red light. They got through the criminal part of the accident but now the civil actions start and may take years to resolve. Several years ago a paramedic ran through a red light, struck a vehicle and killed two people. He was convicted and sentenced to a term of 2-10 years. He lost his paramedic license, declared bankruptcy, got divorced and basically lost everything because he ran a red light.

In the first accident in this article as the driver was careening down the hill, he put the transmission in neutral and applied the parking brake. He lost compression braking. The transmission was equipped with an output retarder, that was also lost. He was taught that anytime the parking brake is applied you put the transmission in neutral. Drivers need to be aware of how all the systems and components on that vehicle work. It should be added that the driver only had two years on the job. In review we have had accidents that are a direct result of departments not having in place daily inspection procedures, apparatus inspection programs, qualified technicians maintaining emergency vehicles, professional fleet management, and properly trained and qualified drivers. Without these we will continue to put firefighters and the citizens they protect at risk.

Ralph Craven
Apparatus Investigation Consultant
Sunset, Utah

This entry was posted on Monday, February 13th, 2012 at 12:56 pm and is filed under commentary articles. There are No Responses to “Pre-Trip Inspections” :

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