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Refurbish or replace? NFPA 1901 Annex D explained

July 15, 2004

By Alan Saulsbury

According to the U.S. Fire Administration’s Fire Service Needs Assessment, researched by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and published in December 2002, 16 percent of all fire engines (pumpers) are 15–19 years old; 21 percent are 20–29 years old; 13 percent (more than 10,000) are more than 30 years old. The report concludes that more than half of all fire engines are more than 15 years old.

Significant changes in NFPA Standards (1901, 1906, 1911, 1912, 1914 and 1915) in the past 13 years have resulted in dramatic new safety improvements in fire apparatus. The recent release of the 2003 edition of NFPA 1901 noted a new section, Annex D, referencing apparatus replacement or refurbishment. This document now outlines the basic requirements for a first-line response apparatus vs. reserve apparatus. In addition, Annex D provides guidelines on items to be refurbished and updated.

Every fire department has a responsibility to provide safe apparatus and equipment for its personnel to safely perform their responsibilities to their community. The apparatus should be compliant with national standards and must also adhere to state and local requirements.

Fire departments should audit their fleets in comparison to the following new definitions:

Definition of first-line fire apparatus: First-line fire apparatus must be manufactured to NFPA 1901, 1991 (2003 editions) and must be maintained apparatus in accordance with NFPA 1912 and 1915.

Definition of reserve fire apparatus: Reserve fire apparatus is defined as apparatus manufactured to applicable NFPA 1901 editions, after 1979 and prior to the 1991 edition. Such apparatus must have been upgraded to include as many of the features as possible found in 1991 or newer units and as outlined below.

Definition of obsolete apparatus: Apparatus built before 1979 and/or not manufactured to meet NFPA 1901.

Fire departments should be aware of legal issues that could impact the decision-making process of in-service apparatus. NFPA 1901 Annex D is not mandatory; however, it establishes a new datum point for age of apparatus and updating guidelines.

The fire department assumes full liability of retaining known deficient apparatus in service. To knowingly operate or approve of the operation of a vehicle that could kill or injure the public or a fire fighter severely exposes the fire department officials to liability.

The fire department should complete these steps for apparatus retention:

1. Carefully evaluate: A certified EVT should inspect the apparatus and collect all pertinent information.
2. Test existing apparatus to determine deficiencies and required updates.
a. Always use a third-party testing agency for aerial testing
b. Pumper testing should be done by a third party to assure validity of test results
c. A third-party testing company should identify deficiencies and recommended corrections.
3. Carefully analyze all your alternatives: Secure all costs and financing options in your refurbish or replacement plans. If you decided refurbishing is your best alternative, also double check and compare the cost of a new apparatus.
4. Use NFPA standards in the purchasing, operating and maintenance during the entire life cycle of an apparatus.
5. Know your legal responsibilities of operating vehicles that do not meet NFPA standards.

The complete version Annex D can be found in the 2003 edition of NFPA 1901. Also, a new one-hour video, “Apparatus Refurbishment or Replacement,” is forthcoming from Primedia (FETN and Fire Chief magazine; watch for more information). The IAFC is featuring a session on Aug. 12, “Using NFPA 1901 Annex D for Fleet Replacement” at Fire-Rescue International in New Orleans. For more on FRI, visit

Alan Saulsbury is president of Fire Spec Service, Inc., and a member of NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus.