You can feel it in the air. It is almost time to wave good bye to the troubles of the formidable air conditioning season. Fall is a time that EMS managers enjoy a few easy weeks of no climate woes; however, winter is lurking around the corner. A few weeks ago, the Old Farmer’s Almanac released its winter 2015-16 predictions, indicating the New York Metro area will be enduring yet another “winter that will be colder and snowier than normal.” Now is the time to take a few simple steps to prepare your EMS fleet for the snow and low temperatures.
Start with simple maintenance items and talk to your maintenance provider about what your end goal looks like. For example, many agencies do not take an active role in selecting the tires that are to be placed on vehicles. Ensuring that winter performance tires are being placed on your units not only help in snow and ice conditions, but can perform better than all season tires the majority of the time. According to the Traffic Injury Research Foundation of Canada, “winter tires outperform other types of tires during all winter conditions, including dry surfaces once temperatures drop below 7°C or 45°F.”
Don’t fall in to the trap of believing that automatic snow chains by themselves are the solution. Automatic chains prove useful on ice and small amounts of hard packed snow. However, for the significant upfront cost and continued maintenance costs, a good set of rear tires will prove effective under all conditions.
Low temperatures mean dead batteries and hard, or even worse, no-start conditions in the early mornings. There are two main causes of this. Diesel fuel contains paraffin, which like candle wax, gels as it cools. This adds no. 1 kerosene fuel to the normal no. 2 diesel fuel, reducing this gelling process. Many fuel stations treat fuel with either adding additives making “winterized diesel” or add the kerosene making “winter blend” diesel fuel. Before winter comes, determine if the diesel fuel your agency is purchasing has been winterized or blended. If your suppler does not take steps to winterize or blend the fuel, find a suppler capable of doing so. Either way, reducing the gelling will greatly assist with cold morning starts and drivability. The second preventable cause of no-starts is faulty shore power. During your unit’s next preventative maintenance appointment, be sure to have the shore power tested for connectivity, including the battery charger and engine block heater. Unfortunately, outside of waiting for the engine to get warm, little can be done to test the heater, making connectivity testing at PMs extremely important. With both the battery charger and block heater working, winter starts should not be a problem.
Here are a few more tips on winter preparation:
Keep spare Diesel Exhaust Fluid indoors and well above freezing. DEF freezes similar to water. DEF tanks onboard vehicles have heaters to keep them from freezing.
Purchase low temperature windshield washer fluid and plenty of extra wiper blades. Ensure that the sprayer pump is working well.
Plan ahead for whom to call when a unit without winter tires gets stuck in snow or on ice. Don’t assume every tow company can recover a unit from a snow bank. Ask and get pricing.
Have a plan to remove snow and ice from the roof of the vehicles. Many states are making laws for clearing ice and snow. For example, New Jersey has up to a $1,500 penalty should ice or snow fall off your vehicle and strike another, causing damage. Being an emergency vehicle is no excuse for not clearing the roof completely, not to mention that ice will interfere with communications equipment and rooftop warning devices.
Keep a few bottles of lock de-icer on hand to open vehicle doors. Attempting to force the lock is a sure way to break the key in the cylinder.
Have shovels and snow brushes assigned to each vehicle. Crews need decent tools to ensure they are cleaning the vehicle off in a safe manner.
Lastly provide and encourage the use of appropriate cold weather PPE.
Paying attention to some of these more unpopular technical details will ensure your agency the best chance of a smooth and budget friendly winter. There are many tools available to ensuring vehicle up-time. However, the first step is to believe there is a better way and that it is worth the effort.