Firefighters are constantly exposed to carcinogens when responding to fire calls. One of the simplest ways Drake and his team have tried to help reduce exposure is by working with Pierce Manufacturing to remove self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from the cabs of their fire apparatus when returning from a fire scene. - Photo: City of Tucson Fire Fleet Management Department

Firefighters are constantly exposed to carcinogens when responding to fire calls. One of the simplest ways Drake and his team have tried to help reduce exposure is by working with Pierce Manufacturing to remove self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from the cabs of their fire apparatus when returning from a fire scene.

Photo: City of Tucson Fire Fleet Management Department

Managing a fleet requires many different traits, but perhaps none are more important than a desire to collaborate to make life easier for customers. Jerry Drake, CAFM, Emergency Vehicle Fleet Superintendent for the City of Tucson, AZ, Fire Fleet Management Department, believes taking the time to talk to those who drive the vehicles you spec can lead to innovations that improve safety and efficiency.

Incorporating Innovative Safety Solutions

After missing a vehicle replacement cycle in 2014, the department was able to convince voters to pass a new proposition that allowed them to purchase new vehicles over a five-year period.  Now in year four, included are seven pumpers, four Type 1 ambulances, and a rehab/recovery/air/light/power unit.

The department is  incorporating flow meters into the pump panel of the pumpers to assist firefighters in addition to the existing pressure gauges and have lowered the crosslay bed to ease operations. Since the department upgraded their fire hoses, it changed the friction coefficient for the crews, so installing the flow meters will allow them to make more accurate calculations when flowing water. The lower crosslay beds ensure firefighters won’t have to jump up onto the fire truck, and enable them to reach what they need at ground level.

“All of these additions are based on feedback from the fire crews. As a part of our procurement process, we have a spec review committee. We tell them the amount of funding we have, listen to their needs, and try to get them whatever we can to make their jobs easier and safer.”

Firefighters are constantly exposed to carcinogens when responding to fire calls. One of the simplest ways Drake and his team have tried to help reduce exposure is by working with Pierce Manufacturing to remove self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from the cabs of their fire apparatus when returning from a fire scene.

“We modified the existing SCBA cylinder storage compartments on the exterior of the truck so that the complete SCBA can now be stored in these compartments when returning from a fire call. This modification has further ensured the cab remains clean and safe.”

Before (left) and after (right): the lower crosslay beds ensure firefighters won’t have to jump up onto the fire truck, and enable them to reach what they need at ground level. - Photo: City of Tucson Fire Fleet Management Department

Before (left) and after (right): the lower crosslay beds ensure firefighters won’t have to jump up onto the fire truck, and enable them to reach what they need at ground level.

Photo: City of Tucson Fire Fleet Management Department

Facing and Overcoming Obstacles

In 2006, he had the opportunity to help design the department’s new repair facility. Unfortunately, during construction there was a downturn in concrete availability and a shortage of copper that drastically increased costs. Consequently, he had to cut certain features to remain under budget.

One of the cuts was to the department’s integrated fall protection system. They needed fall protection to open the facility, but did not have the funding to purchase the system. Instead, after some brainstorming, Drake realized they could use the 5-ton bridge crane they had that traversed the length of the shop.

“I worked with the manufacturer of the bridge crane to allow us to attach our fall protection devices to it. It took going through the bridge crane manufacturer’s engineering department and developing a fall protection standard operating procedure (SOP), but it was successful.”

Drake encourages other fleet managers to always look for an alternative solution to a problem with the resources available to you, and request feedback from your team. During the construction of the new facility, team members were asked what specific needs they had for their workstations.

“I highly value their perspectives and experience, and have implemented many of their suggestions.”

“We modified the existing SCBA cylinder storage compartments on the exterior of the truck so that the complete SCBA can now be stored in these compartments when returning from a fire call. This modification has further ensured the cab remains clean and safe," says Drake. - Photo: City of Tucson Fire Fleet Management Department

“We modified the existing SCBA cylinder storage compartments on the exterior of the truck so that the complete SCBA can now be stored in these compartments when returning from a fire call. This modification has further ensured the cab remains clean and safe," says Drake.

Photo: City of Tucson Fire Fleet Management Department

Staying Stagnant is a No-Go

When his department transitioned from an old DOS maintenance system to an upgraded fleet management software platform, he quickly learned it would be a challenging feat to adapt to the new technology. However, he tackled the new task with a desire to learn and familiarize himself with it.

“In a short period of time, I had to learn all about data mapping, building tables, developing class codes, account codes, and modifying vehicle maintenance reporting standards (VMRS) codes for the work we perform,” he explains. “In addition, I had to quickly learn how to use structured query language (SQL) to build Crystal reports to extract this information.”

He overcame these challenges by taking computer classes after work, attending fleet conferences, and reading literature  on fleet management and SQL. Further, Drake returned to college and earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Management.

Learning From COVID

Because the department is a repair facility that only services emergency response vehicles and equipment, many recent COVID related precautions had already been standard operating procedures.

However, one change implemented that has made operations better is closer monitoring of parts and supply usage. Because of limited availability, Drake has adjusted inventory levels and developed contingency processes on how to handle any deficiencies.

Leading the Fleet

Drake takes pride in his work and that of his team. Becoming a fleet manager was a natural fit because of his previous experience in the field, leadership capabilities, and his strong work ethic.

While he originally started out doing mechanical work, he wanted to be a fleet or service manager to learn the business side of the trade. He began working as an automotive technician at a Dodge dealership, then transitioned to diesel truck repair with construction and mining equipment. He’s also done paint and collision repair and machining.

With over 40 years of experience, he’s learned to embrace each new situation he comes across as an opportunity to improve operations in order to better serve customers.

“I look forward to seeing what each day will bring because solving issues and figuring out processes that need changing helps me become a more effective and efficient fleet manager.”

Some Extra Advice

Jerry Drake -

Jerry Drake

  • Get involved in fleet associations and network with your peers. There are many talented and experienced fleet managers who have overcome similar problems you may be facing and they are eager to help.
  • Take classes, earn a degree or degrees in management, finance, or logistics, and become certified as a professional fleet manager. As an example, NAFA offers the CAFM program that covers eight major disciplines of fleet management. If applicable, consider ASE, EVT, and TIA certifications, as well.
  • Having a well-rounded understanding of the nuts-and-bolts side of the technical fleet aspects, in addition to the management side, will help you make successful decisions in your career. It’s to your advantage when hiring personnel, writing technical specifications, and dealing with warranty issues to be as well-versed as possible.
  • Remember that your customers are what keep you in business, and your employees are your greatest assets.  Treat them all with respect. 
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