Weighing a tragedy against the greater good that ultimately results is never an easy proposition. And yet it can be argued that every emergency vehicle on the road in America today is safer because of the deaths of three Connecticut firefighters in the 1980s.
The accident took place in a city called Waterbury, when a piece of reserve fire equipment was called up for front line service. The maintenance department knew the truck had a brake problem, but after an inspection had decided that the repairs could wait until after the fire call…
"This was the first fire truck accident involving fatalities that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated," says Steve Wilde, president of Elmhurst, IL-based Certified Fleet, a maintenance provider that specializes in emergency vehicles. According to Wilde, NTSB then spent several years investigating fire truck and ambulance accidents, and came to the conclusion that 85 percent of those accidents were caused by a lack of maintenance, or poor quality maintenance.
This stark assessment prodded the Apparatus Maintenance Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) to take action. "At that point, the Apparatus Maintenance Section said, 'That's what we're here for, to try to fix these kinds of problems,' says Wilde. "They felt that the best way to do that was to develop a technician certification process that would mirror ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) but would be technically appropriate to fire trucks."
According to Wilde, the Apparatus Maintenance Section of IAFC started developing a certification program in 1988, and offered its first certification exam in 1989. In 1992, the certification program was incorporated as the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission (EVTCC), although it is still operated by the IAFC. In 1994, Wilde became president of EVTCC (a post he still holds today), and the organization moved to Dundee, IL. Under Wilde's leadership, the organization has developed a training, testing and certification process that would be the envy of any fleet.
NOT YOUR ENEMY
"When the program was first developed, there was a pretty close-knit organization of fire technicians from around the country—the Apparatus Maintenance Section—that was pretty adamant that we needed something to recognize the technician and to get out this message that vehicle maintenance isn't your enemy, even though it costs you money," says Wilde. "In the end it saves you money, and it puts better, safer operating equipment in the hands of the people who need it to save lives and protect property."
From all indications, EVTCC has been very successful at getting that message out. This past August, the group announced that EVT certifications had been granted to 56 technicians across the country, and in the wake of new tests that were administered nationwide on October 14, many more will be added to the rolls soon.
One reason the program is so successful is that it is designed to complement ASE technician certifications. An emergency vehicle technician can pursue certifications for emergency vehicles only, but to become a Master Technician, then he or she must also pass ASE certification tests.
"We developed our tests around fire apparatus specifically, and we modeled them after ASE," Wilde explains. "We entered into an agreement with (ASE), so we use ASE Certifications for our levels of certification, but we certify in individual areas, too. For instance, if you take a fire pump test and pass it, you're certified to work on fire pumps, and after you get so many EVTs then you can add ASEs to them and get what we call 'Level Certified' and go all the way up to a Master EVT. There are about 400 Masters now out of about 10,000 Certifications we've given.