Much like concern over the nation’s deteriorating roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure, reports about lack of funding for aging and malfunctioning fire trucks and other apparatus are proliferating at an alarming rate. Financial hardships are forcing many departments to rely upon equipment nearing—or even at—obsolescence.
In turn, this ratchets up pressure on departments to ensure that maintenance checks and protocols are performed in as timely and complete a way as possible to maximize fleet and apparatus life, reliability and safety. Public safety watchdogs are keeping score on all of it. Underfunded departments doing the best with what they’ve got will be more readily excused when a malfunction occurs than those exhibiting negligence in their maintenance checks and repairs. Two examples below demonstrate the discrepancy.
A January 2015 Cincinnati Enquirer online report points to a lack of performance tied to funding challenges: “Aging fire trucks in Covington have firefighters concerned they won't be able to get to certain areas of the city or upper floors of buildings in time. Jimmy Adams, president of the Covington Firefighters Union Local 38, painted a bleak picture for the Covington City Commission of a fleet of old fire trucks they patch together with obsolete parts. Two recent breakdowns have created gaps in fire coverage, Adams said. The average age of a Covington fire truck is 15 years, with many so obsolete they can't get parts for them. ‘When they start breaking and the shop can't get parts and we can't get them fixed, people are going to have to start doing without fire protection because we don't have anything to give them,’ Adams said.”
In comparison, a report last summer on WashingtonCityPaper.com was critical of the Washington, DC fire department: “With vehicles frequently out of service and two ambulances catching fire on the same day last summer (the Metropolitan Police Department ruled out sabotage), department officials ordered an audit on how the department’s fleet maintenance had gone so wrong.” It goes on to site management concerns as the primary culprit—concerns which often generate more negative publicity.
The bottom line is, departments must be ultra-vigilant about maximizing resources whenever and wherever possible. One obvious area is maintenance. Both the maintenance check process and its documentation for on-the-spot inspections should be examined and upgraded where needed.
Departments still using paper logbooks to accomplish these tasks may feel somewhat like the mythical character Sisyphus who keeps pushing that big rock up the hill, only to have it come tumbling back down upon him. Paper’s inherent limitations open wide gaps through which maintenance shortfalls and documentation deficiencies can readily fall.
In the case of maintenance shortfalls, paper makes it much easier to miss a needed check; and it’s much more difficult to create an alert system that will flag it. As far as documentation, paper requires user vigilance to keep it updated and readily available.
On the other hand, a digital, cloud-based maintenance equipment and apparatus system can offer a virtually fail-safe solution. Properly set up and implemented, a digital solution will monitor needed checks, send out alerts if/when something is not addressed, and automatically provide an up-to-date, immediately accessible log documenting overall status as well as details about specific checks and maintenance performed. It also can be a much faster and convenient way for overtaxed firefighters to address adequately this critical part of their jobs.
As financial shortfalls and pressure to maximize efficiency increase, the ability to streamline and automatically document maintenance checks and needed repairs will prove ever-more critical—to a department’s ability to perform, safeguard lives and property, and maintain a positive reputation.