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 Nondestructive What? Aerial Device Testing Enhances Safety and Prolongs Device Life


Aerial devices are critically important apparatus to fire departments. An aerial device could be a sectional ladder, an elevated platform or an articulating boom. Testing is very important for the prevention of aerial device failure and malfunction, which can have serious consequences.

There are two common causes of loss for the devices: metal fatigue and improper and/or lack of proper maintenance. Both causes of loss are largely preventable. However, to prevent these losses and provide for safe operation, scheduled testing must be conducted in conjunction with routine maintenance. Organizations that own aerial devices need to fully understand the requirements for testing these devices. NFPA 1911, Chapter 19 governs the process and procedures for aerial testing, and prescribes two levels of testing required for aerial devices: Annual Testing and Nondestructive Testing.

All of the tests outlined in NFPA 1911, Chapter 19 must be conducted annually, and there is no option to pick and choose which tests are conducted. Annual Testing may be conducted by any qualified individual (as defined in NFPA 1911, Chapter 19) once a year. This test is essentially a visual inspection and a documented operational test. Nondestructive Testing (NDT), sometimes referred to as a Five-Year Nondestructive Test, must be conducted by a highly qualified and certified Level II NDT Technician, as specified in American Society of Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) CP-189, Standard for Qualification and Certification of Non Destructive Personnel.

The NDT is a general term for one of several methods that can be used to inspect the aerial device’s structural components without physically altering or damaging the materials. These methods could include, but are not limited to, liquid penetrant inspection, magnetic particle inspection, radiography, metal hardness and ultrasonic testing. All of these tests are designed to detect metal fatigue, cracks or deformities in the frame, ladder, ladder rails, turntable, outrigger, bolts or any other critical metal structural component.

An NDT must be conducted at least once every five years and whenever the aerial device has been damaged or stressed beyond normal limits. The majority of fire departments that own aerial devices understand that NFPA requires testing, but there is often confusion and misunderstanding of what testing is actually required. The NFPA Standard and VFIS both require that a successful NDT be completed at least every five years for any aerial device. As the name implies, the Annual Test shall be conducted every year, including the years that NDTs are completed. The NDT is a supplemental test, not a substitute test. The testing organization shall meet the requirement of ISO 17020, General criteria for the operation of various types of bodies performing inspections.

Often, the confusion begins when the fire department contacts a testing company. While there are very specific NFPA standards for tests and testing procedures, there are no industry standards on the marketing of testing or on how to report the findings. As a result, departments may find themselves inadvertently not meeting testing standards, resulting in higher risk for loss. 


Six Steps to Maintaining Your Aerial Device Keeping up with the required maintenance and proper testing of aerial devices are the two most effective ways to help greatly reduce the risk of a catastrophic failure. Follow these basic steps to ensure everyone’s safety.

1. Whether the device is new or used, follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations closely. Clean and well maintained aerial devices don’t wear out as quickly. Make certain your budget is adequate to keep up with the service of the vehicle and the aerial device mounted on it.

2. Have an NFPA Annual Test conducted every year as recommended in the NFPA 1911 Standard, Chapter 19.

3. Every five years, have the Nondestructive Test (NDT) conducted in conjunction with the Annual Test.

4. When contracting for testing services, be sure to clearly identify which test — Annual, Nondestructive, or both — you wish to have conducted and determine if the testing company is qualified to conduct those tests.

5. If you are in the market for a used aerial device, have both an Annual and a Nondestructive Test conducted prior to completing the purchase. Make certain that you obtain a copy of the test report(s) and a certificate indicating that the device passed the test(s).

6. If the aerial device is unusually stressed during emergency operations or training, or if it is damaged, have an NDT conducted prior to placing the aerial back into service.

Many departments simply request that someone come out and test the aerial device to meet NFPA Standards. In the case where the fire department does not specify which test to perform, the testing company may perform an Annual Test when the situation calls for a NDT instead, and, in some cases, the testing company may only be qualified to perform an Annual Test. They may advertise that they conduct NFPA compliant tests but do not clarify whether such NFPA compliant tests are Annual Tests or NDTs. The testing company is not required to specify that they are not conducting an NDT, because an Annual Test meets NFPA Standards as well. Simply stated, the responsibility for knowing what test is required and when, and finding the proper testing company to conduct the proper test, is up to the fire department.

If an individual is a Level II NDT Technician, they should be carrying proof (an ID card) of their certification level. It is a good idea to ask for that proof from the individual or company prior to hiring. In addition to asking questions regarding the tests, always obtain a certificate of insurance from the testing company under consideration to perform the testing to provide proof that the company has liability insurance. Testing is critical when considering the purchase of a used aerial device. VFIS claims history shows that aerial device failure is not uncommon and that the risk of failure increases as a unit ages, particularly in units over 20 years old. Not surprisingly, some of the most common reasons for selling an aerial device are aging parts and unrepaired damage.

When purchasing a used device, a fire department should either require the seller to conduct a Nondestructive Test and provide the results, or the department should have its own NDT conducted prior to finalizing the purchase. If the aerial device doesn’t pass the test, the department will need to carefully consider the cost of repairs and re-certification before driving the device home. If a test has not been completed before the purchase, you may have just driven home a very expensive ground ladder transport vehicle. If the seller offers a fire department a test certificate, proceed carefully. There are no industry standards for reporting test results. When a testing company provides a test certificate, it may or may not indicate what kind of test has been completed. Some certificates indicate that a test was conducted that met NFPA 1911, Chapter 19 Standards, but do not indicate what part of the standard was met. Some indicate that the certificate is good for one year, but does not indicate what test was conducted. Some certificates indicate that an Annual Test was completed, but their version of an Annual Test always includes an NDT. Sometimes there isn’t a certificate available, which typically means that the aerial device did not pass the test and needs repairs.

VFIS is among several agencies actively working to establish standards for reporting requirements.

Please contact VFIS Risk Control Services at (800) 233-1957 with any questions or concerns about aerial devices or testing and reporting requirements.


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Original Article from VFIS News See article number 4


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