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Thorough Fire Apparatus Cleaning Can Head Off Potentially Perilous Problems

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Photo By: Thomas Altfather Good

By Frank R. Myers

Once every four months our department performed a “Super Scrub.” This was a day when we were allowed to place our fire trucks out of service for two or three hours to do a complete cleaning. This involved taking all equipment out of the truck, wiping down all tools and equipment, cleaning and wiping the compartments, and washing and waxing.

There were times when we would remove the nonslip rubber mats that were on the shelves or at the bottom of the truck compartments and discover fluid leaks from the power tools, broken glass from dive masks, medical items that had fallen behind other items and become out of date among other items that had been overlooked. All this adds up to dollars wasted.

The point here is that if the super scrub hadn’t detected issues on a regular basis, long-term malfunctions, contamination, or exposure issues could have arisen. Catching the issues early while the truck was out of service also allowed us to address the problems, so that when we returned to service, we were again 100 percent operation-ready.

For our advanced life support (ALS) transport units, we wore our rubber gloves and did a complete wipe down of the interior patient area. We used the current anti-germicidal/bacterial fluid given to us by our supply division. After completing our wipe down and feeling confident that we had done a thorough job, a special dye type fluid was sprayed and revealed contaminated areas that had been missed. (It was similar to the black light method used today to reveal such contaminants.) These areas were subject to crew contact during transports. 

Another advantage is especially important for aerial/ladder apparatus. Since these type of trucks use hydraulic fluid, this was also a good time to catch any hydraulic fluid leaks. Climbing on top of these trucks is beneficial because many of the hoses, gear boxes and cylinders used to operate the ladder device are located there.

The areas usually neglected are on the top of the trucks. For pumpers and aerials we called it the “basket” area. This is a common collection point for debris that comes from hitting trees with low-hanging branches. Leaves, sticks, and other general unwanted items tend to find their way there. We carried a petroleum absorbent in five-gallon buckets in our baskets. There were always remnants of the petroleum absorbent there that needed to be cleaned. This was also the area where we carried our aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) for petroleum and alcohol-based fires. These foam solutions can be corrosive; therefore, it was a good idea to prevent any spillage.

In the long run, you always want to ensure that your equipment is clean and ready. This allows for optimum performance, assuring that your crew can perform their duties to the best of their ability. It is also a reflection for what the public sees because it is important that they know their tax-dollar-supported apparatus are being well maintained. It is a direct reflection on you, your crew, and your department. 

FRANK R. MYERS is a retired lieutenant with Miami (FL) Fire Rescue, where he served for 32 years. Before his retirement, he served at the training center for six years as the driver engineer instructor. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.com, a technology service that helps fire departments across the country automate their apparatus, equipment, and inventory checks.

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