Technology And Today's Fire Apparatus

Paul ChristiansenBy Paul Christiansen
Marketing Director/Aerial Sales Director
Ferrara Fire Apparatus

We have gone a full two years since the release of the 2009 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Frequently though, we field questions from fire and rescue departments as to how their apparatus will comply with the requirements of the standard.

Perhaps like no other edition of NFPA 1901, the 2009 standard put technology at the forefront. This was made more prevalent with the advent of 2010 federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) diesel engine emission requirements. Technology has driven fire apparatus design standards like never before - from apparatus rollover prevention via enhanced anti-lock braking systems to vehicle data recorders to diesel particulate filter (DPF) regeneration requirements. These combined factors dictate that fire departments must understand the technology behind their apparatus.

Contrast the changes brought about by current NFPA and EPA standards with those in prior years. We've gone from requiring an enclosed crew cab with sirens, moving air horns from the cab roof to the bumper and placing warning lights at preset distances - all low tech items - to high technology driven apparatus design criteria, such as: three different methods to prevent apparatus rollover; seat belt indicator/event data recorders; DPF inhibit switches; and diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) tank locations. These are all significant changes with which fire department personnel must familiarize themselves to properly and safely operate their vehicles.

Apparatus manufacturers are, in large part, becoming extremely adept in designing their apparatus around these and other high tech components. That being said, there is certainly a long way to go to educate the market as to how these items will affect their new fire apparatus. Whether it's a fire department that purchases apparatus frequently or one that gets a new fire truck on occasion, all have a large amount of research and homework ahead of them when assembling specifications for new fire-rescue apparatus.

Today's technology requires that fire departments understand many more operational features of their fire apparatus. This is true whether it's a firefighter performing a daily maintenance check, an officer on the fireground or members of a truck committee locating equipment on their new apparatus.

While the selected items from NFPA and EPA standards stated earlier may be the most notable changes to new vehicles, there are still many 1901 requirements that can impact the development of specifications. Here are just a few examples of questions truck committees should pose to manufacturers prior to construction of a vehicle:

  • Ground ladders must be protected from heat sources greater than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. We want to store our ladders between the tank and high side compartment. The wheelbase is somewhat short, so the ladders will protrude into the pump compartment slightly. Because we live in the north, a pump compartment heater is a necessity in the winter. As an apparatus manufacturer, where will you locate this heater relative to the ladder tunnel and how will the tunnel be designed?
  • NFPA says we must have a "seat-belt fastened" indicator light and alarm system. How will the system know if we are actually buckled in place or if the seatbelt is fastened behind the occupant?
  • Compartment lighting has been increased from 1 fc to 2 fc. OK, what's an fc? As NFPA defines it, it is 20 lx. Thanks, that was helpful. Actually, fc is an abbreviation for foot-candle and is used to measure the amount of light the inner surface of a one-foot diameter sphere would receive from a single candela light source in its center. Suffice to say, you should do at least a preliminary layout on paper of the truck's equipment and plan lighting around that, also taking into consideration amp draw and costs associated with the various types of compartment lights.
  • We are designing a new breathing air truck. The compressor will be mounted across the floor in the front transverse compartment. Like most vehicles, the exhaust will terminate under the right side of the compartment. We live in the south, where temperatures become extremely hot in the summer. How do you propose to keep the ambient temperature in the compressor compartment under the NFPA 1901 mandated 140 degrees F, given the higher exhaust temperatures associated with newer engines?
  • Low tech item, but important nonetheless; where are we going to store the NFPA required traffic cones?
    Beyond compiling specifications, once the new apparatus is delivered and put into service, procedures must be implemented into the fire department's daily, weekly and monthly checkout procedures. In addition to standard fluid, pump, generator and warning device inspections, consider these:
  • Someone in authority must be responsible for downloading information from the vehicle data recorder and store it on a secure computer. This device records information such as acceleration and braking times, throttle position, emergency master switch position, seat-belt status and seat occupancy.

This device was met with some resistance initially because of the "Big Brother" image it has. However, the importance of the data captured by the VDR is obvious if an apparatus is involved in an accident. You can provide insurance companies with rock solid data that shows firefighters were buckled in their seats, the speed the truck was travelling at the time of the accident and the time it took from brake application to vehicle stop.

There are other ways the vehicle data recorder can have a positive impact. Suppose someone calls to complain about a fire truck's speed even though the driver was obeying all traffic laws. The VDR can prove the driver was operating legally. Several brands of VDR are available, and most store information up to 48 hours.

  • When was the last time your diesel engine went through regeneration?

Don't ask your next door neighbor, who's an over-the-road trucker, how often a regen should occur. Given the way fire apparatus are driven with sudden starts and acceleration and sudden stops, often without a turbo cool down, fire apparatus will go through the regen procedure more frequently than a long haul semi-tractor. You should chart the number of engine hours between regeneration cycles. This information should be recorded along with other maintenance items, just like how often a quart of oil is added to the engine.

  • Everyone's turnout gear is inside the cab and helmets are sitting under everyone's coats. Is that a problem?

As most everyone is aware, helmets may no longer be worn inside the cab. They must be secured with a bracket or inside a cabinet. Helmet brackets are a viable solution to this requirement. However, when designing your cab, plan ahead for the space that will be taken up by one helmet per occupant.

Operationally, there are many questions that drivers and officers have once they begin using their trucks equipped with today's technology. Some common questions include:

  • We're en route to an emergency and the regen light comes on. Now what do you do? Where is the regen inhibit switch and how does it operate?
  • We were in the middle of a forced regen and our engine company was sent to a routine rescue call. The high exhaust temperature warning light is on, and we keep our medical equipment in the right front compartment. Can we safely access this equipment?
  • Someone asked about moving the extrication tools to another compartment. How will that affect the NFPA required load distribution plan?
  • When our fire department purchased a new heavy rescue vehicle, we opted for the calculated center of gravity method of apparatus rollover protection instead of electronic stability control. After putting the truck in service, we found the need to free up some compartment space. We're considering moving the cascade system ASME bottles from on top of the frame rails to the upper body compartments. How much of an impact will this have on our center of gravity?

To recap, it has been just over two years since the new NFPA 1901 standards took effect and a little over one year since the new federal emissions regulations became the law of the land. While this may be a long time on the calendar, many, many fire departments have not specified a new apparatus using these technologies. No longer is it adequate to know section, number and page in 1901. Today, like never before, fire-rescue personnel must understand the workings of this technology, how it will affect fire truck design and operations and who they can rely upon to keep everything working properly.

Editor's note: Paul Christiansen, Marketing Director/Aerial Sales Director for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, has been in the fire apparatus industry since 1987, working in field sales, product management, new product development and marketing. He is a former volunteer firefighter.

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