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Fixin' rescue rigs

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue repair crews keep emergency vehicles on the road to calls
by: Jonathan House, FLEET MAINTENANCE — A line of fire engines wait to be worked on in Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue’s full-service shop. Because of new computer technology, firefighters can only perform the most basic tune-ups on their rigs. Everything else is left to professional technicians.

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue is in a business where every second counts.

The fire district can't afford to have any of its 108 response units down or experience equipment failure when lives hang in the balance.

To ensure the fire district's fleet is always prepared to answer the call, TVF and R relies on the vigilance of Kevin Day and his team of technicians in the fleet maintenance shop.

'When the bell rings, we've got to be good every time and exceed expectations,' said Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Chief Jeff Johnson. 'We are not in an occupation where we can afford to get it wrong.

'We've got to be spectacular when people need us. Anything less than our best is not good enough when lives are at stake.'

That's where the importance of the fire district's full-service shop becomes apparent.

'While you will likely never see them, TVF and R's fleet maintenance personnel play a critical role in every emergency incident by ensuring our responders arrive quickly and equipment works properly to help those in need,' said Karen Eubanks, fire district spokeswoman.

Assistant Chief Kirk Hale agreed.

'We have the same standard of excellence for our apparatus as we expect from our firefighters, paramedics and other personnel,' Hale said. 'The talented professionals in our shop get the job done right every day.'

Technicians in the shop are responsible for maintaining the fire district's 108 response units and 281 self-contained breathing apparatus.

The shop also services 75 units from neighboring agencies and fire districts in Hillsboro, Cornelius, Gaston, Gladstone, Lake Oswego and Washington County, including the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency.

'Our mission is to keep these vehicles running and in top condition,' said Kevin Day, fleet service manager. 'They need to be on the road and ready for action.'

Day's team specializes in maintaining fire apparatus, and the six bays of the shop are always occupied.

'It's always a big day in the shop,' Day said.

Every vehicle in the fleet is on a four-month schedule for preventative maintenance services from oil changes to brake inspections and tire rotations.

Fire districts also rely on the shop for required replacements, upgrades and corrective maintenance as needed.

Through an online tracking system, technicians respond to work requests submitted by fire stations and work to correct any problems that pop up.

'It takes a lot of vigilance to keep these vehicles on the road,' said Bob Fox, a tech3 mechanic. 'We look at the basic complaint by the apparatus operator, and like a good book, we begin at the beginning and end at the end until we fix the problem.'

The shop is set up for complete powertrain repairs; setup and fabrication; fire pump maintenance, repair and certification; and annual air pack maintenance, repair and certification.

The shop also contains a fully stocked parts room.

'We can't afford to have a fire truck out four to six weeks while we wait for a part to arrive,' Day explained.

The fleet maintenance team also has a mobile technician that responds around the clock to unforeseen mechanical issues in the field.

Annually the fleet's odometer nears the 1-million-mile mark as crews respond to emergencies and other service calls. That means a lot of wear and tear on the vehicles.

'Last year our firefighters and paramedics responded to 31,000 incidents and experienced only two equipment failures that delayed response,' Eubanks said. 'That's a credit to the work of our shop.'

The success rate could also be attributed to the shop's practice of following a proactive and progressive business model to track performance, follow schedules designed to avoid predictable equipment failures and maintain a standardized fleet.

Technicians' expertise also plays a major role, Day added.

'This crew knows these trucks,' Day said. 'They know that there's a lot on the line when someone calls 9-1-1, and they are dedicated to making sure firefighters are able to do their job.'