I have struggled with something to write about this week. Fires are still occurring, and ambulances run up and down the road constantly, but nothing came to the surface until I passed Station 14 this afternoon. There are not many days that I pass No. 14 that the truck is not sitting out back, with the ladder extended, firefighters standing on the turntable or ropes hanging underneath the aerial. Though this statement flows across the entire fire service, I always used to say that an aerial that will not function when needed is absolutely useless. Whatever ladder truck the crew is riding on must be fully functional to be able to carry out the many tasks assigned to the truck company. Whether it’s an elevated master stream, a stokes basket operation or putting firefighters on the roof, the aerial must be ready to perform. This requires two things: equipment that works and a crew capable of working that equipment. Different ladder trucks operate differently and have different capabilities, requiring firefighters to constantly train on every type of aerial in a given department.
Mondays at 14 present a full day of maintenance on every piece of apparatus in the station. If everyone does their job properly, the apparatus and equipment is tested and maintained. If a malfunction is detected, a work order is done or a unit may be pulled from service. One piece of weekly maintenance is to clean exposed tools and compartments. The point of this is not to create busy work, but to ensure that the equipment is functional, and that firefighters have an opportunity to put their hands on the equipment regularly. There is nothing worse than needing a piece of equipment and not being able to find it without rummaging through the entire truck. A little off subject, but we used to check oil viscosity on small boats in the Coast Guard. Week after week, we would check the oil, and the readings would be the same. One particular day, I checked the viscosity on the 44-foot motor lifeboat. The ball dropped so fast, I could not take a reading. I tested it a couple more times with the same finding. In the end, the oil had been changed in both engines the day before and accidentally got replaced with hydraulic fluid instead of motor oil. Sitting at the dock was a much better time to find the problem than being in heavy seas and suffering catastrophic engine failure; the same goes for fire apparatus and equipment.
The next time you see a fire unit out and about, or sitting behind the fire station, there is a good chance that they have been to a call, they are doing maintenance or they have been training. Whatever the case, I applaud them for all that they do. My engine company friends may feel a bit slighted by this article, but remember, I spent 19 years on engines. Chief Graham used to call truckies “splinterheads.” I was proud to have ridden both.