An Illinois fire chief recently asked me via e-mail if his department was required by NFPA to use a certified EVT to make any repairs to fire and EMS apparatus. He had been told that motor and transmission work could be done by non-EVT repair shops, but everything else should be done by an EVT. The chief also asked if there was a distinction between in-house repairs and EVT repairs from a liability standpoint.
I turned to subject-matter experts to respond to the chief. Steve Wilde, president of the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission, responded that Section 4.3 of NFPA 1911 requires all inspection, service, repair and testing of emergency response vehicles be done by technicians who meet the requirements of NFPA 1071, Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications. NFPA qualification standards are written in a JPR (job performance requirements) format, which makes it hard for laypeople to understand the exact requirements technicians must meet. The JPR format was designed for training agencies to develop skills and knowledge training and testing.
"Unfortunately, there are no state training or testing programs being done to the NFPA 1071 standard like there is for the NFPA 1001 standard for Firefighter I," Wilde wrote. "Since there was already knowledge-based testing being done by EVT Certification Commission and ASE before NFPA 1071 was developed, the 1071 committee developed a chart in the annex to list those certification exams that would apply to the emergency vehicle. The chart helps chiefs, fleet administrators and technicians by listing different areas of the Emergency Response Vehicles they would work on and what certifications the committee decided the technician should have to perform the work in those areas."
The bottom line is the best way to know that a technician is qualified to repair an emergency response vehicle is knowing they've passed EVT and ASE exams.
Wilde wrote that for engine and transmission work, the chief was correct — engine and transmission dealers have their own qualifications, and those would meet the intent of the 1071 standard requirements.
"Regarding the liability that your department has and where you should draw the line on in-house repairs really becomes a question of the qualifications of your technicians," Wilde wrote. "If something goes wrong — an accident, the pump doesn't work at a fire or the aerial can't go up when needed — there is going to be an inquiry and lawsuits. All records of repairs and qualifications of the technicians or repair shop will be reviewed and scrutinized. If something is not right, someone will have to answer why."
Wilde reiterated the importance of making sure every repair, replacement and action is documented and that your technicians or repair facilities meet the requirements of NFPA 1911 and 1071. In addition, the qualifications of outside repair shops need to be checked and that info kept in your files to prove that they are qualified to repair your emergency response vehicles.
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To review the certification chart in NFPA 1071, go to www.nfpa.org and look at NFPA 1071 (read the document online or purchase the book in pdf format) by clicking on Codes and Standards and then click Document Info pages on the left. Type in 1071 in the search box on the right, login in and you can read the standard. Locate Annex B page 27 where two charts list the areas of the vehicle and what certifications the technician should have to work on those areas.
I also forwarded the chief's liability question to attorney Jim Juneau, counsel to the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association and Fire and Emergency Manufacturers and Services Association.
"The issue will always be whether the fire department (and its command staff) acted reasonably in the manner in which service jobs were assigned to EVT versus non-EVT mechanics," Juneau replied. "I think that a screening process…would be good evidence that the department and command staff acted reasonably because the decision regarding the skill level required is always being made by an EVT, who, by virtue of his superior mechanical knowledge, skill and experience, would ostensibly always be in a better position to correctly make those judgments than would fire department command staff alone. Otherwise, without an EVT screener, it's just going to be a mechanic's guessing game as to whether things that look the same really are the same as between commercial trucks versus fire trucks."
Juneau cited the January 2009 incident that occurred when Boston Fire Department's Ladder 26 original OEM "special service" brake components were replaced during service by outside brake shop. Replacement parts were appropriate for a similarly sized commercial truck, but were not appropriate for emergency service vehicles.
"The subsequent brake component failure cost a fire lieutenant his life," Juneau said. "A non-EVT mechanic wouldn't have had any way of knowing that the brake parts were different for an emergency service vehicle, unless he happened to have dealt with this issue before. There are lots of things on a fire apparatus that are different in that way (e.g. diesel engine regeneration parameters, engine ECM programming, transmission adjustments and interlocks, electrical system load management, etc.). Why take the chance of guessing wrong?"
Saving on maintenance repairs could cost more than money.
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