By Ricky Riley
In the last couple of months, I have been involved in, or listened to, conversations involving parts and pieces of fire apparatus. In those conversations, it has been interesting to listen to the views, opinions, and somewhat non factual information about these important parts and pieces of any fire apparatus.
Regardless of the manufacturer a department chooses, the rig is made up of hundreds of parts and pieces. And, these parts and pieces are not all manufactured and built at the builders’ factories. They are bought through outside vendors from a number of sources to meet the supply and demand of the builder. Examples of these parts would be brake systems, axles, windshield wipers, alternators, taillights and the list could go on for pages and pages.
Listening to firehouse table talk and sometimes at repair facilities, we tend to blame the manufacturer with the name on the front of the firetruck for the failure of the parts and pieces rather than the vendor or company that actually made the part. Most manufacturers have a standard set of parts and pieces that they will place on their apparatus. They usually have been well vetted and meet the requirements and standards of the builder. And, with a large number of departments, this standard set of components and parts will meet the demands of the service of their apparatus, which is a good thing.
As departments get busier, and apparatus spends more time on the road responding to emergencies—and when I say busier that does not mean just urban and suburban departments—the demand for the fire service is getting higher for even rural departments. Of course when getting busier, sometimes funding streams do not keep pace with the activity level and the maintenance and repair of our rigs. So, ensuring that we get the best parts and pieces is the responsibility of the team responsible for specifications and the buying recommendations of the department.
As we sit at engineering/design conferences with our chosen manufacturer, this is the time to get the parts and pieces right. It should not be about a chrome bumper, fancy paint job, or cool lighting. It should be about the heart of the truck, the heart that will keep the unit in service responding on calls and out of the repair shop. We pick those parts and pieces through research on each product that we choose to put on our apparatus. That research should include looking at all repair tickets for the previous rig in your department and seeing what kept it out of service each time. What part or piece broke or malfunctioned, and is there a better alternative out there? For many components on any rig, the buyer has a say in what is put on. This could be from the windshield wiper motor to the suspension parts underneath the rig. We pick those pieces through our history and research. Is it going to cost us some more for our rig from standard? Why, yes it is, but if picking parts and pieces that we know are reliable, durable, and have longevity keeps the rig in service in your community and response area, then the extra expense and time put into the research and engineering is worth it to lower out of service times.
Regardless of your repair facility’s size or stock or whether it is government or privately operated, these parts and pieces will need to be available. If the closest thing you have is a local automotive car store or truck store, did you specify parts and pieces for your apparatus when possible that you can get at those stores? If you want your apparatus to be built with all NAPA parts, then you have to specify NAPA parts—not just hope that you can get them at NAPA. This will require a lot of work to get part compatibility lists and to ensure you can buy those parts locally. Being able to get your part at the NAPA store is not the responsibility of the builder—it is your responsibility as the purchaser.
Parts and pieces are what get our rigs to calls each and every day. You, as the purchaser, need to do your own vetting and understand the availability and durability of those parts on your apparatus.
RICKY RILEY is the president of Traditions Training, LLC. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He is currently a firefighter with the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He also is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.