Reducing Fire Truck Accidents Starts with Maintenance

By Frank R. Myers

Fire truck accidents are the “second leading cause of on-the-job deaths for firefighters.” This finding is the result of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, which noted that “about 70 percent of all fire truck accidents occurred while in emergency use.” One obvious way to bring this number down is to keep up with apparatus maintenance.

What are the best ways to do that?

Conducting apparatus maintenance checks

There are many resources and statistics available for fire department software vehicle checks that address apparatus accidents and prevention. I will address observations and lessons learned from personal experience while working with my former department.

The first thing that comes to my mind is the condition of the tires, the foundation of the truck. Coming from an area that gets its share of rainfall throughout the year, good tire condition is imperative. Most standards use either 2/32” or 4/32” to gauge their tread depth on commercial vehicles. Our department adopted a policy of 4/32” (and no less!) for both front and rear tires.

Scheduled vehicle checks

We adopted a multiple-point policy; visual inspection of the tread depth every day and an actual measurement of each tire with a tire tread depth gauge for the monthly apparatus inspection report. Tire pressure readings also were recorded. We need to ensure that we provide fields for measuring either six tires (pumper, ALS transport, etc.) or 10 (aerial apparatus and others) for entry of the measurements and pressures. The inner rear tires are the most overlooked because of their location and “inconvenient” access. No shortcuts or “pencil whipping” from the previous month’s record was allowed.

Obviously, brakes are an important component that cannot be overlooked. Performing a CDL brake test for air brake systems is the most thorough way of detecting any issues in the braking system. It is important to know what the gauges are telling you and what component is defective if there is a malfunction. This info can be better communicated to maintenance personnel so they can get a clearer picture of what repairs are needed. The test is too lengthy to discuss here in detail, but for the most part, the CDL tests the parking brake, emergency brakes, gauges, lights and warnings, and any leaks that may be occurring.

Firefighters performing truck checks on fire engine outside the fire department.

Basic cleanliness and upkeep

Vehicle hygiene must be maintained, in other words, ensuring that all mirrors are cleaned with no water spots. The same goes for all the glass around the vehicle. This creates a clear view for all routine movements and when responding to alarms. It also allows situational awareness of any activity occurring outside the vehicle. All emergency lights must be checked, and lenses cleaned to assure that they can clearly be seen when activated.

Electronics and vehicle systems

Ensure that all lights are functioning. Check every bulb or LED light to confirm that it is illuminating. Interior lighting is just as important, especially when performing tasks at night.

The apparatus is our rolling office. Besides driving and responding, we also need to access such items as: hydrant maps, DOT emergency response guideline reference, NIOSH references, binoculars, gate access cards and keys for residential areas, etc.

Notice, Check, then Report

When a driver has been with the same vehicle day in and day out, they learn the nuances of the vehicle. Any change or feeling, a new sound or knock can reveal to them that something is amiss and must be addressed. This usually comes from steering and/or suspension components.

Any change or difference noted must be immediately addressed. There are many “hidden” areas on vehicles; therefore, it would be in the best interest for all to get the vehicle up on a lift and look for any faulty or broken components that may not be otherwise apparent when performing the daily inspection(s).

These routine inspections that occur daily, monthly, and even annually for some tests required by the NFPA can be addressed thoroughly by using software that has all the best apparatus and vehicle check features. Having such a system also helps contribute to any accreditation recognition the department is seeking or already has, along with ISO ratings for department classification.

Driver Behavior

The other components of preventing accidents involve driver behavior. The two most important factors that can prevent fatalities are to slow down and wear seatbelts.

A policy needs to be adopted in which firefighters, when responding to a call, should not be bunkering out when the vehicle is in motion. Dressing out needs to occur before mounting the truck, and seat belts must be fastened before the vehicle departs.

Driver behavior itself can contribute to vehicle wear and tear due to bad habits. Granted, it is not about money, but it can save money in the long run. Every firefighter dreads changing out into another vehicle and would rather be in the new or newer front-line apparatus.

Depending on your run load, vehicle purchasing/replacement needs to occur at some time.

Basically, determine the service life. Based on your resources and as a vehicle ages, more repairs start becoming apparent. Taking maintenance personnel away from performing preventive maintenance and having to deal with breakdowns of components to an aging fleet can cause delays and further malfunctions. Preventive maintenance is one of the most important factors to keep a vehicle from breaking down and performing correctly and safely.

FRANK R. MYERS is a retired Lieutenant with the City of Miami (FL) Fire Rescue, where he served 32 years. Before his retirement, he served at the Training Center for six years as the Driver Engineer Instructor. Frank now serves as a Senior Advisor for, a software platform that helps fire departments streamline and automate their apparatus, equipment, and narcotics programs.