How Do You Know When It's Time?

When do you replace apparatus and is it planned or knee-jerk? These point may help.

Even on the golf course our conversation tend to center around work- or the fire service in general. When asked about apparatus replacement I began to think about what it takes to really make informed decisions and to plan accordingly. Here's the advice I have for fleet managers.

Based upon the research and standards within the fire service, I recommend that front-line engines be in-service for a period of 10 years, followed by 5 years in reserve, followed by 5 years in a training-reserve capacity at the training center (if you have one). 10 years in reserve if you have no other needs for it.

The following discussion points are the caveats that will change this timeline on a case-by-case situation.

Discussion and Justification:

Apparatus replacement is a component of a fire department’s strategic plan and as such, criteria should be established to guide the fleet replacement process.

There are factors that make this a more complex and individualized decision for your department. Age of the apparatus is not the only criteria to consider when making these decisions. Unreliable vehicles, out-of-service time and costs are the deciding factors.

Age- The chronological age of the apparatus gives us benchmarks when planning. It is generally accepted that front-line Type-1 engines in a municipal setting will last for 10 years followed by 10 years in reserve and retired at the 20 year mark. Some say 15 years followed by 5 years in reserve. It’s really a combination of factors that drives the decision.

Utilization/Mileage- Another factor to consider is the utilization and mileage of the apparatus. Apparatus assigned to busy stations will sustain more wear-and-tear and may need to be rotated to slower stations to lengthen their useful life. Apparatus of an older age may not be suitable for out-of-county mutual aid assignments.

Maintenance- Preventive maintenance will lengthen the lifespan of apparatus. However, some apparatus just require more maintenance. Therefore, the budget expenditures per apparatus need to be accurate to gauge long-term maintenance cost versus replacement. Availability of replacement parts may become an issue with older vehicles.

Changing Standards- Industry standards drive decisions about apparatus replacement. Changes that we have witnessed in the past few years include improved safety, lower emissions, greater fuel economy and changes in operational standards. I recommend that your fleet manager stay in tune with NFPA 1901 and actively participate in the standards-making process. Lastly, rapidly advancing technologies can make equipment and practices obsolete sooner than expected. Replacement versus retrofitting costs will need to be compared.