Maintenance Professionals as World-Class Firefighters

22.11.2016

“You need to punch up your thesis statement”, I was warned by my faculty advisor.  “A thesis statement” he said, “should invite debate and stir controversy.”  With the intent in mind, to challenge the status quo, and to “ruffle some feathers”, let me provide a truly counter-cultural view…our maintenance technicians should be world-class firefighters.

firetruck

Our maintenance technicians should be world-class firefighters.

Many maintenance managers believe their technicians spend much of their time fighting fires.   I can certainly empathize with that, having been there myself.  What has really been happening, however, is that we are fighting fires, metaphorically, without world-class firefighters.

What do firefighters do when they aren’t fighting fires? Conjure up an image of firefighters washing and drying their fire engine.  Everyone can relate to this iconic image.  In fact, few images depict “Americana” better than this classic.  But what’s really going on in the photo?

Sure the activity nets a clean and shiny machine, but more than just routine cleaning is an intimate inspection of the asset.  By washing and drying the engine, by hand, the crews are getting an up close look at all the gauges, levers, hooks, and other apparatus on the engine.

World class firefighters clean and inspect their equipment; the engine, their personal gear, and the common equipment such as ladders and axes.

In fact, fire hoses are un-reeled, pressurized and tested, self-contained breathing gear is cleaned and inspected as well as other unlimited checks and re-checks of the equipment.  Sound like a good characteristic for our technicians to emulate?

Firefighters train on the latest techniques and train on routine processes to ensure that correct movements and practices are executed instinctively.  Everyone knows their role, how their actions affect the whole, and that success depends on everyone working together.  Training to cut non-valued steps; to ensure safety and asset protection as well as life and property.  Again, a commitment and level of training that is more than OJT (on-the job), and is dependent on competency to perform.  This is a critical approach that our own technicians can benchmark to improve the deliverables from their skill-based training.

Professional firefighters visit senior citizen living communities to inspect carbon monoxide detectors.  They tour schools to ensure smoke detectors are working.  Restaurants and other public gathering places are inspected to make sure that public safety is preserved.

They visit schools and remind children to be on the lookout for unsafe conditions, like an over loaded electrical outlet.  And, if they see something, tell an adult.  And if you were to actually catch on fire, stop, drop, and roll.

Proactive Maintenance Reduces Risks

Our own maintenance technicians are meant to be active in the plant community.  Enlist production associates and others to be on the lookout for circumstances that aren’t right.  Encourage others to be engaged and monitor devices meant to alert us when conditions are suspect.  Like fire fighters, danger is reduced and risk better managed and mitigated if everyone is deputized to be proactive.

And finally, when there is a fire (and there always will be), world-class firefighters respond.  They respond in a force needed for the cause, with the tools and equipment necessary to overwhelm the fire.  No one has to run back to the fire station to grab an axe.  They put out the fire, once!  This is very important.  That’s exactly what’s required to respond to such emergencies in our plant.

When the fire has suspicious origins, it is investigated thoroughly.  Precisely what we want to accomplish through a root-cause-analysis process at our locations.

Summarizing what a world-class firefighter actually does:

  • Inspect equipment for serviceability and repair as needed
  • Train to instil best practices and learn new life/time saving techniques
  • Interact with the community, proactively, looking for undesirable conditions and enlisting others in the cause
  • Respond rapidly, with training, skill, and the proper equipment to fight fires
  • Put out the fire, once
  • Investigate suspicious incidents

What we want our maintenance technicians to do:

  • Inspect equipment for serviceability and repair as needed
  • Train to instil best practices and learn new time saving techniques
  • Interact with others, proactively, looking for undesirable conditions and enlisting others in the cause
  • Respond to breakdowns rapidly with training, skill, and the proper equipment 
  • Repair the failure, once
  • Investigate suspicious incidents

By adopting a process to review preventative and predictive maintenance to ensure that failure modes are identified and guarded against, an organization can work towards a better means to inspect equipment for serviceability.  Failure modes are in essence the manner in which a failure manifests itself.  Firefighters aren’t just inspecting equipment for serviceability, they are making a judgement on its availability when needed.  This concept is directly in line with the idea of overall reliability.

Training regiments in most maintenance organizations don’t typically even comply with the most basic OJT principles.  Jokingly, typical programmes are little more than FJA (Follow Joe Around).  Skill-based training should be based on what is required to actually support the operational mission.  Skill building programmes should be competency-based; what objective evidence will be accepted to prove that a technician knows how to perform a task?

Organizations hoping to stay competitive in the twenty-first century must aggressively pursue a methodology to engage the entire workforce in equipment reliability.  Approaches, such as Total Productive Maintenance, require everyone to have some responsibility for equipment reliability.  

By engaging the total mass of the workforce, the entire organization mobilizes to ensure availability.  Processes such as Autonomous Care go a long way towards ensuring everyone finds their “niche”. 

Getting Prepared for Emergencies is Key

Make no mistake, emergencies will happen.  When a breakdown occurs, the maintenance department will respond immediately and make every attempt to solve the problem, restore order, and get the operation back in service.  This is sometimes best executed with a Do-It-Now (DIN) crew, sometimes called a Hit Crew.  A crisis needs attention without sacrificing preventative maintenance or corrective maintenance efforts.  Is your organization structured to handle preventative maintenance, corrective maintenance, and emergency maintenance at the same time?  A city’s fire department can cover all three.

Breakdowns must be repaired correctly, one time, just like a fire is put out only once.  If the emergency, or fire, is suspicious in nature, an investigation is warranted to determine what exactly happened to keep it from happening again.

In the final analysis, like firefighters, we, the public, want our first responders to be ready for the worst.  We support the effort to train for, guard against, and respond to all manner of need.  

Like world-class firefighters, we want our technicians to always be vigilant, but seldom have to fight an actual fire.

john_ross_cmrp

John Ross, CMRP
Marshall Institute
jross(at)marshallinstitute.com

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