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Firefighters: Inspect, test, write it down

Firefighters return to their trucks after rescuing two window washers left dangling from broken scaffolding on the top of the 46-story Hearst Tower in New York City.
Firefighters return to their trucks after rescuing two window washers left dangling from broken scaffolding on the top of the 46-story Hearst Tower in New York City.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Catastrophic failure of a ladder is not something you want to think about while you're climbing 100 feet into the sky. It should never be a concern but equipment fails, no matter how well it has been maintained, a failure is bound to happen. Every piece of equipment we use is subjected to harsh conditions and requires regular inspection, in most cases each piece of equipment, from ladders to air bottles to bunker pants, has a specified length of time to be used in service.

Maintaining equipment is not just changing out the old for the latest and greatest item you've seen advertised. Maintaining equipment is following manufacturer specifications and recommendations for service life of equipment and performing regular inspections to ensure our safety. There are many organizations that impact your safety as it relates to pieces of equipment that you use; referencing The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and any requirements from the department within your state government that oversees fire departments.

Ladder inspections, hose tests, hydrant inspections/flow, SCBA tests, pump tests, gas detector tests/calibration, bunker gear inspections, technical rescue equipment inspections, daily truck checks, and so on. The list is endless. Who performs inspections? You may have a designated group that inspects certain equipment or responsibilities are rotated. While documenting the inspection is important it is also important to document what training the inspector has in order to properly complete the inspection. Certain equipment requires special skills with differences among manufacturers requiring completely different training for the same type of equipment.

The purpose typing the aforementioned is this - when a problem has occurred that results in injury or death from the use of a piece of equipment, will you have the records to show that the equipment was regularly and properly inspected and maintained with respect to all appropriate rules, regulations, and guidelines? Will these inspections have been completed by a trained inspector (also having special certification or training as necessary)? As I venture farther and farther from my tiny bubble, I have observed a wide variety of inspection techniques and documentation practices. There are departments that have complete logs for the life of the piece of equipment and perform regular testing as specified by NFPA or the manufacturer. There are many departments who conduct the regular tests of their equipment and have it serviced by a technician but do not have it documented in any manner. There are a few departments that have a garage with a fire truck inside that has never had much more than an oil change, and proving even the routine oil change had ever occurred would be difficult.

Proper documentation is important in a society where a court room sorts disputes but it is also important for your department's rating from the Insurance Service Office (ISO). In any context the technically accurate or the non-existent documentation of equipment testing and inspection, with daily/weekly truck checks can speak volumes about the rest of the fire department's documentation and preparedness habits. Bare bones annual inspection documentation typically translates to bare bones documentation for fire and EMS reports, employee evaluations, and internal and external communication generated by the department.

On the fire ground, at the extrication, on the call for difficulty breathing - none of these are ideal situations to find out that vital equipment will not operate. With regular testing and daily equipment checks we limit the hazards to ourselves, to our citizens, and we ensure that each call for service can be mitigated to the best of our ability. Let no firefighter's injury speak for the routine maintenance that could have saved him/her from six months of light-duty.

Alexander Zielinski is a volunteer firefighter in Evansville, Indiana and a full-time firefighter in Providence, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter @FireSafetyAZ If you enjoyed this article leave a comment or click subscribe above to receive notification of future stories. Read a previous Fire Safety article: July 4th without injuries