By Dave Werner
I have written before about the important role of being an apparatus operator. Drivers have a significant amount of responsibility when it comes to their role. If a driver does not take their job seriously it will have negative impacts on everyone else on the crew. Today’s apparatus operators need to be motivated, knowledgeable, and proactive.
First and foremost the driver needs to know the apparatus like the back of their hand. This means knowing where every piece equipment is, how every component and resource on the apparatus works, and how to troubleshoot issues. The driver needs to ensure that everything is where it’s supposed to be, and that all of the equipment is serviced and ready for use. Not to say that the driver can’t ask for help with this process, but the responsibility is on the drivers’ shoulders. Any vehicle mounted equipment like generators, air compressors, or hydraulic pumps should be checked for proper operation and readiness. The driver should be able to operate any auxiliary equipment without hesitation.
The apparatus itself obviously requires a thorough inspection and check out. Often times departments will designate certain days of the week for more detailed apparatus checks. As a driver you need to do whatever you need to do to ensure that your apparatus is fully operational. Simply checking engine fluids is not enough. Look for fluid leaks under the apparatus, get on a creeper and give the underside a thorough check. Lift the cab to get your eyes and hands on the drivetrain, steering and braking components, and plumbing and wiring. Spending the time making sure everything is right will save significant time down the road. Prevention and early detection is the key!
If your apparatus has a water pump it needs to be put through its paces as well. First, make sure the booster tank is full of water. Don’t trust electronic gauges, stick your head in the tank! Put the pump in gear and listen for any unusual sounds indicating something is not right. Get the pump recirculating and ensure that the gauges reflect the flowing water. Do not forget to briefly run the primer, even if the pump is already primed. Most primers don’t get used often and tend to get hung up over time. Slowly build pressure while watching the gauges. Make note of any gauges that rise on closed discharges as this indicates a leaky valve. Make sure any pressure regulating devices are operating correctly. Open and close as many valves as you can without charging hose lines. This keeps valves from getting sticky and hard to operate. Idle the pump down, close any open valves, and take the pump out of gear. Go back to the panel and open and close any valves you couldn’t open under pressure to ensure they are functioning properly. Also, make sure you know how to manually put the pump in gear if your apparatus has that feature.
Drivers need to have complete knowledge of the hose lines and nozzles on their apparatus. They should know exactly what pump pressures are required for each line on the apparatus. It is irresponsible and dangerous to let your crew run into a burning building while you guess what pressure to pump the lines at. Not only should you memorize pump pressures for the pre-connected lines, but you should also be able to figure out the friction loss for unusual or not often used hose line set ups. Make yourself a laminated note card filled with helpful calculations and pump pressures to make your job easier. Keep in mind that a lot of departments do not standardize the hose set ups for every apparatus. It is up to the driver to know what length and diameter of hose line and what type of nozzle they will be dealing with.
It goes without saying that drivers need to have intimate knowledge of their response area. Knowing the streets is only part of the equation. Drivers need to know how the addresses run on streets, the location of hydrants, alternative routes, and anything else that could have an effect on operations. Proper apparatus spotting is another important part of being a driver. Drivers should be able to take one look at a structure and determine what would be the ideal spot to put the apparatus. The officer is going to be busy performing a size up when you arrive on scene, so if you as a driver can handle some of the initial actions without direction you will greatly enhance the flow of operations.
As you can see the job of a proactive driver is important and very challenging. Now more than ever we need drivers who will step up to the plate and become a team player on scene. Having a driver cling to the driver’s seat or the pump panel does not add anything to the operation. With todays reduced staffing numbers we need that extra set of eyes and hands on scene. We need drivers who take ownership of their role in operating the apparatus and ensuring its readiness for whatever we may respond to. As always, stay smart, and stay combat ready!