Many of us working in the fire industry always want to have the latest and greatest features on our trucks. At the department I worked for, we had purchased some new pumpers and quints in the 1990s. They had electronic gates on the pump panel, an electronic pressure governor and electric doors at the rear of the cab for the crew, among many other features, that later became troublesome.
The manufacturer went out of business three years after we had purchased them. Inevitably, we needed parts that were no longer available.
The electric crew cab doors had a "sealed" electronic unit on them that eventually malfunctioned. When this occurred, the truck had to be placed out of service for six months so the whole apparatus could be rewired in order to get the door to function again. The doors also had a hand "pinch" hazard that could cause injury if the crew was not careful about where they place their hands when exiting the truck.
The gates operated at the pump panel electronically. They had a solenoid that opened and closed the gates, which were powered by hydraulic fluid at high pressures. At the ends of the actuator rods were magnets. These magnets would activate a status light on the pump panel for each gate that would tell you whether the gate was fully open, partially open or closed.
When these parts failed, we had to get replacements manufactured by another that did not have the magnets on both ends of the solenoid. Until they were fixed, the gate status had to be visually determined by the driver.
Other idiosyncrasies later became apparent. The tank fill valve diameter was so large that when it was fully opened, the pump would "run away" or cavitate because the pipe orifice was beyond the rated capacity of the pump.
There was also a wiring harness that supplied all the power to the pump panel. If it was not securely connected, power would be lost to the pump panel, making all functions inoperable. We would have to tie-wrap the male side to the female side of the plug to assure good contact and a continuing connection.
The body (compartment) portion was made of fiberglass and had screws falling out constantly. At times, the latches for the body doors would not fully lock and needed constant adjusting. Compartments would come open while driving, which is obviously extremely dangerous.
Later, a damper had to be added to the steering components to prevent "drifting" left or right when driving on the highway. As service life increased, less water had to be carried due to cracks occurring in the rear axles of the quint apparatus.
All said, there were lessons learned about buying the next apparatus — following discussion with the drivers, maintenance personnel (mechanics) and members of our apparatus committee:
It's interesting to note that departments with a heavy run load and alarm response — including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami — tend to buy basic, standard, off-the-shelf trucks that are not complicated and get the job done. And they replace them more often (every 4-6 years), so there is no need to purchase expensive custom trucks for the majority of the fleet, unless it is a specialty apparatus.
There is no doubt that we have come a long way since the 1990s. However, keeping trucks basic makes for fewer complications and component failures, less downtime and easier repairs.
This article was written for & published by MultiBriefs.