Once a helicopter pilot friend told me at the Tan Son Nhut Air Base Officers Club that eight hours of maintenance were spent for every hour his helicopter was actually in the air. Without the time spent on testing, preventative maintenance, and repairs, he never felt that his ship was in proper shape to carry out flight missions.
Running a modern fire department also requires hours of behind the scenes work for every fire call answered. The public and taxpayers hear about the house fires and auto accidents that the Sebago Fire Department responds to, but the important hours that go into keeping the trucks and fire fighters in shape to respond are less spectacular and visible.
This past week was a particularly busy one for Chief Ken Littlefield and the Sebago Fire Department. On Monday, September 29 a crew under the leadership of Captain Norm Storey finished the annual hose testing on Engine 4. On Wednesday Fire Fighter Tim Cook and his crew worked with Jon Usher from IPS to run visual and functional tests required annually on all the Departments Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). And on Friday, Chief Littlefield and his crew worked with Paul Letourneau from Ricker Enterprises to carry out the annual pump tests on Sebago's three fire engines.
Once a year every length of hose is taken off all the engines and tested for integrity by filling it with water to a test pressure and holding it for a test period. For example, 4" fire hose is pressurized at 200 p.s.i. for 5 minutes to see if there are any leaks. If a piece of hose bursts or develops leaks it is pulled from the active inventory and replaced. Once all the hose has been tested each heavy length must be drained, dried, and repacked on the engines.
This is a time consuming effort requiring a large crew of fire fighters and normally takes two days. If you saw a group of fire fighters with hose stretched out over the parking lot at Station 1 in Center Sebago or at the Elementary School in East Sebago, you saw us doing hose testing. It is one of our least favorite events, but we realize that it must be done every year. The alternative is to have a length of hose fail during a fire, which could cause serious injury to fire fighters and disrupt efforts to put the fire out.
When I first became a volunteer fire fighter in Effingham, NH back in the late 1950s we didn't have any SCBAs on any of our engines. I remember going to the Meadowood Fire Training School and taking the SCBA course and learning how these life-saving devices worked. It was a revelation! With modern protective clothing and SCBAs, our fire fighters carry the attack into a burning building and put the fire out while it is still small. We can work around toxic fumes and in smoke-filled rooms to rescue victims without injuring our fire fighters. Modern fire fighting equipment has allowed fire fighting to move from being only "cellar savers" to saving structures and lives, and the Sebago Fire Department is justifiably proud of its record over the years.
SCBAs must be regularly maintained to be safe and effective. Every year a mobile testing van comes to Sebago and subjects each SCBA to a battery of visual and functional tests. The faceplates are inspected for leaks. The switches, reducers, and regulators are checked and cleaned. The harnesses and back frames are inspected. The SCBA is subjected to air pressure tests for leakage and seals. Each of the SCBA air bottles is also tested hydrostatically for safety and integrity.
The Sebago Fire Department has 11 SCBAs on its three engines, and all were inspected, tested, and repaired if necessary. They were all given a clean bill of health. Some of them are quite old, however, and as part of the FEMA grant that Sebago recently won, new SCBAs will be purchased to keep the equipment up to date, safe, and efficient.
From time to time you hear about a pump failing on a fire engine while at a fire. Losing a pump during a working fire, particularly if that pump is on the lead attack engine and is supplying several lines on a fire can be disastrous. To help insure that this doesn't happen, and also to meet fire safety requirements, each of Sebago's three fire engines go through a thorough pump test each year. Ricker Enterprises (formerly R&R Safety) from Randolph, ME, has been running our pump tests for a number of years. The engines were brought down to the town boat ramp and tested in turn. We dropped suction lines into the lake and set up a water cannon with multiple 2 ½" hoses from each engine.
The pump in each engine has a manufacturer's rating, and the pump test checks to see if the pump is operating at specified volumes and pressures. The time to prime and lift water to the pump through the suction lines in the lake is measured. The pumps are tested in three stages, flowing different specified volumes at set pressures through calibrated nozzles on the water cannon. Pressures are held for 30 minutes at one stage, 10 minutes at a second setting, and 10 minutes at a third setting.
All three Sebago fire engines passed their pump test, although the testing technician noted that the pump on Engine 2 is not pumping at full manufacturers specifications. Since this engine is 13 years old, that is not unusual. At some point in the future the pump will need to be rebuilt or replaced, but for the present it has a fully operational rating.
In addition to these three testing cycles, the Sebago Fire Department annually:
· Tests their ladders for strength and safety,
· Inspects all fire extinguishers to confirm charges,
· Hydrostatically pressure tests SCBA air bottles
· Tests and tunes generators, Jaws of Life engines,
· Safety inspects all apparatus,
Monthly inspections of all apparatus is done by the Department officers at the three fire houses to check fluid levels, air pressures, lights and electrical systems, pumps and tools on all apparatus.
Fire Fighter Training
The engines and equipment are not the only things that must be tested regularly. The heart of the Sebago Fire Department is the volunteer fire fighter, your neighbor and friend who spends time willingly to be ready for the next fire call. Monthly Department training drills are held for the fire fighters year round where they have a chance to learn new skills and refresh learned ones. In addition, many of the fire fighters attend training held by the Cumberland County Fire Attack School, Maine Department of Forestry, National Fire Academy, Southern Maine Technical College, and other training programs.
And so the next time that you see the Sebago Fire Department responding to a call, remember that the fire engines and the fire fighters would not be able to do their jobs as well as they do without a huge investment of their time in training, inspections, and maintenance.
[Note - This article was published in the Bridgton News on October 9, 2003]
Last updated October 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2003, Allen Crabtree