Cold Weather Maintenance

It’s almost that time of year again when colder weather begins to approach, unless you live in the warmer western and southern climates. However the way the weather has been in the last several years, we have seen snow and ice on roadways even in the southern states. Whatever be the case, your vehicles needs some extra loving care to operate in these more severe conditions.

Seasonal Check

Doing an winter apparatus check, added to your regular weekly or in some cases daily pre-trip inspections might save you some down time before the bad weathers hits.

This really isn’t rocket science. Some of the items you need to check include:

  • Windshield wiper blades and defrosters: Are they in good operating condition?
  • Anti-freeze: Are the proper levels adhered to?
  • Radiator: Are there any leaks?
  • Tires: Are they properly inflated?
  • Fluids: Are fluid levels appropriate, including oil and transmission?

In addition, make sure your batteries and alternator are in good shape and have enough voltage. Cold weather can reduce the battery levels. Also, check that the air brakes are working properly and there is no excess of moisture in the system. Check all visual warning devices. The vehicles might be harder to see on the road during a snow storm.

If you manually attach chains to the tires, make sure they fit properly and that they are in good condition. If not, they may become loose and can damage the body of the apparatus while responding. You may have the option on your vehicles of having automatic chains that are on rotating hubs that swing down and throw the chains under the rolling tires; make sure that they are in good working condition.

Depending on what area of the country you live in, a great deal of highway departments or departments of transportation (DOT) spread a mixture of sand and calcium chloride on the roads to keep them from freezing and to promote better traction. If you can, have your members wash off the vehicles when you return from a run. I know this might be easier said than done, but it will reduce rust and other damage to your vehicles.

If you can, carry some sand or rock salt in one of your compartments to use if you get stuck on the fireground. Remember we are not just talking about driving to and from an emergency scene. While operating at a fire scene, your tank might leak water or runoff from hoses and can cause ice buildup on roadways. Your department should have a standard operating procedures for calling in the DOT or highway department for a sander to spread sand or salt at the scene for better traction.

Drive Carefully

In addition to prepping your vehicle, you also need to prep your drivers. When a vehicle is properly prepped, there is a tendency for drivers to travel faster. Use the same amount of caution you would if the apparatus didn’t have chains installed. Keeping your speed down is the safest way to travel. Remember: Having a big heavy apparatus loaded with water or equipment does not make it less slippery on ice or snow.

Driving in inclement weather reduces stopping distances. It takes three to15 times more distance for a vehicle to come to a complete stop on snow and ice than on dry pavement. Good drivers apply the brakes in an area free of traffic to test just how slippery a road may be. Remember good driving techniques.

Always make sure that whoever is driving your vehicles is qualified to operate in these types of adverse condition. Now is not the time for training the new firefighter. Although not everyone has to worry about these weather challenges, I hope I have given you some insight into what you should be thinking about going into the winter months.

Please wear your seatbelts and drive safe.

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