It seems that every time you walk by your local fire station, they are out front washing the engines and trucks. Why do firefighters always wash their trucks? Is there a good reason to do it so often?
The reason that firefighters seem to wash their trucks so frequently is to provide longevity for the equipment, allow for damage and other issues to be more easily seen and therefore fixed, and as a way to show their professionalism and pride in their job.
Below we will discuss more about what we mean by equipment longevity, damage visibility, and fire service culture and why they are important.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Wash Those Trucks!
Many people see firefighters cleaning their apparatus so frequently and think it’s unnecessary. They assume we have nothing better to do and with so much downtime, we occupy ourselves by washing the truck, again. I can’t speak for all the fire departments, but in my experience, this is not at all the case.
Like most things, it varies by department, but where I work, every Monday we wash our engines and trucks. We also wash them after it rains or any other time they get extra dirty. So depending on the time of year, they get washed 1-3 times a week on average at our department.
It’s a matter of pride and an unwritten rule to never turn over a dirty engine to the oncoming crew, unless it’s currently raining and washing it would be pointless.
To learn about the differences between fire trucks and fire engines, read: What’s the Difference Between a Fire Engine and a Fire Truck?
Making It Last
It’s no surprise that clean equipment seems to last longer. It is our goal as firefighters to make our apparatus last as long as possible. We know that tax dollars pay for these and that it is our responsibility to take great care of them, essentially stretching the taxes we all pay as far as possible.
Things like dirt, diesel dust, road grime, and salt from the roads can all cause damage to different parts of the truck or engine. If we only washed them 1-2 times a month, all these contaminants would have 2-4 weeks to sit and the damage done would be much worse. By cleaning often, we prevent much of this damage and therefore extend the life of our vehicles.
This is even more important in the fire service today than in the past. Periods of economic struggle have forced firefighters to do more with less. While many departments budget for apparatus to last a maximum of 20 years, during the recession, most of our engines were well over 20 years old.
If they hadn’t been well maintained, there is no way we could continue to safely do our job and it would force an already tight city budget to spend money then didn’t have. Or worse, cut back on services to the citizens, with unknown consequences.
If It Can’t Be Seen, It Can’t Be Fixed
While this may not be universally true (I’m sure you can find something that you can fix without seeing it), you can’t fix it if you cant see it.
Imagine your mountain bike is covered in mud from your last epic trail ride. Little did you know, when you jumped off that rock, you cracked your frame. This hairline crack is invisible while your bike is covered in mud. If you leave the mud, you never see it and next time you go ride, your bike could break in half while riding and you could get seriously hurt. But you don’t let that happen, because mountain biking is your thing and you know how important it is to maintain your gear.
Firefighting is no different. If we keep our vehicles and other equipment clean and well maintained; we can spot an issue before it becomes a major issue. The difference is that while your safety depends on your bike not breaking in half, the safety of potentially hundreds of people depend on our apparatus functioning properly and allowing us to do our job when called upon.
One place I really notice this is on a lot of the compartment roll-up style doors. If they are kept clean and free of debris, they work great. However, if they get gummed-up with dirt (which can happen even when washing the rig multiple times per week) they don’t function properly.
I can’t imagine needing a specific tool in an emergency (say the “Jaws-of-Life” to rescue someone trapped in a car) and being unable to open the compartment due to dirt build-up. That would be unacceptable, and we, as firefighters, strive to never have something like that happen.
Fire Service Culture
The fire service is a paramilitary organization. This means that many of the same, strict standards of cleanliness and organization are expected. To what degree can vary greatly by the department’s history, but some elements of the military are present in most fire departments.
The standard of taking pride in your appearance and that of your equipment is rooted deep in the firefighter culture. A pressed uniform and a shiny truck go hand-in-hand and allow firefighters to show their pride in their profession. Nobody wants a firefighter to show up to help them and look like a slob! And that applies to the vehicles as well.
When a professional in any field shows up, it should be clear by how they present themselves that they are indeed, professionals. Firefighters are no different.
Being a professional means being well trained and equipped to complete all parts of our job. Clean vehicles are one of the many ways we reassure our citizens that we take our jobs seriously and are experts in our craft.
Learning and Staying Sharp
Firefighters are responsible for a whole lot more than fighting fires these days. Added to the fact that fires are less common than they have been in the past and maintaining all the necessary skills and knowledge that are required and expected of firefighters is no easy task. One aspect of this required knowledge is familiarity with the operation and use of our apparatus.
Whether a new “probie” (probationary) firefighter is learning about the engine for the first time or a senior driver/engineer is keeping his knowledge fresh; washing the rig is a good chance to get your eyes and hands on the apparatus. This can go a long way in the process of learning and maintaining vehicle parts and operation knowledge.
Training and always striving to improve our skills is a huge part of being a firefighter. Our vehicles are one of our most important tools to accomplish our job and so we all must be well versed in all the parts and functions of our rigs.
Where Do Firefighters Sleep?
Most fire stations are set up to allow the firefighters on duty to sleep when there is time to do so. Fire stations are usually equipped with some type of sleeping quarters. Whether or not there is time for the firefighters to sleep, will really depend on how busy that particular station is. For more info on firefighter’s sleep, read this.
Are Firefighters Always on Call?
Career firefighters are on call (need to be ready to respond) at all times when they are on duty at the station or when there is a disaster that needs more assistance. Volunteer firefighters are on call when at the station or sometimes from home, but they are not usually expected to be on call at all times.