Maintenance records are important. They can help technicians spot recurring problems and ensure that work meets the manufacturer’s guidelines. Records also can help keep departments out of court. Even the smallest departments should keep some basic maintenance records.
First, every piece of apparatus and equipment should have its own maintenance record. This includes vehicles, generators, rescue tools, hose and even ground ladders. If something needs to be inspected, maintained, tested or repaired, it needs a separate record. To do this, each item needs a separate identification number or designation. Using a vehicle identification number is a common way to keep track of apparatus and other vehicles. Departments may want to simplify the identification by also noting the unit number (Engine 2 or Rescue 1, for example), but the VIN should be kept on file for absolute identification. Generators and other equipment often have manufacturer’s serial numbers that departments can use. In some cases, equipment such as hose and ground ladders may have to be marked or otherwise identified by the department.
Second, the maintenance records need to be written or kept in a computer memory with a back-up copy. Undocumented maintenance histories have little or no value in tracking problems, proving warranty claims or defending your department in court. The records should show what work was performed, when it was done and who did the work. The person doing the work should be properly identified, rather than having the shop foreman or supervisor sign off for everything. This last point is critical. If an apparatus or piece of equipment is involved in an accident where someone is injured or killed, investigators will want to know if the inspection, maintenance or testing was performed by a qualified person. To defend themselves adequately, departments need to record the name of the person who actually performed every task.
Third, all the inspections, maintenance and testing must follow the procedures specified by the manufacturer and must be performed at least as often as required by the manufacturer. Accurate maintenance records can help show this was done. Rather than make the records too long and unwieldy, departments may choose to write standard operating procedures for certain detailed tasks, such as pump or aerial tests, and simply refer to those procedures in the maintenance records. Keeping good records of tests also can help establish and maintain a department’s Insurance Services Office rating. ISO requires periodic performance tests of pumps, aerials, hose and other equipment to ensure they are still in good operating condition. Departments will lose points if they cannot prove they have successfully conducted these tests according to the required schedule.
Keeping maintenance records can help in other ways. They can help mechanics spot recurring problems on the same or similar apparatus and equipment. This is especially important when more than one person may have worked on an item and may not be aware of its maintenance history. Not only can this help identify the problem or provide a point to begin troubleshooting, but it also may point to a specific solution. In some cases, the fact that work was recently performed in a certain component may lead technicians to investigate further if a seemingly unrelated problem now occurs. For example, a new radio installation may have inadvertently caused an electrical problem in the same area.
A periodic review of maintenance records can also help departments identify escalating maintenance costs for a certain piece of apparatus or equipment and may be a basis for budgeting a replacement. The records can provide written proof of the labor, parts and outside services required to keep an older item in service and also can demonstrate the amount of time the item was out of service and not available.
To help departments with their maintenance records, NFPA 1911, Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2007 Edition, offers maintenance checklists, out-of-service criteria, testing procedures and sample forms and reports. Annex A of the latest edition has a wealth of explanatory material relating to specific sections of the main body of the standard. Annex B provides instructions on how to conduct pump tests, including helpful information on what to do if something goes wrong during the tests, how to calculate the results and the effect of altitude on the tests. Annex C includes detailed instructions on how to develop a preventive maintenance program and includes sample forms for the daily/weekly walk-around check for apparatus, the quarterly/annual apparatus inspection report, plus forms to record the results of pump, aerial, low-voltage electrical system, foam proportioning system and CAFS performance tests. Annex D provides guidelines for placing apparatus in frontline and reserve service, including recommendations on when to replace older apparatus.
Although most people don’t like paperwork, keeping some basic maintenance records can help service technicians and departments alike. Start with a single apparatus or piece of equipment, refer to the appropriate maintenance manuals, develop a form to record information about maintenance and testing on that item and expand from there. Good maintenance records don’t have to be complicated, but they do have to be written down and maintained to be of value.