As firefighters, we are better protected than we ever have been before. Take personal protective equipment (PPE), for example. When used properly, our PPE prevents the products of combustion from affecting us not only in the short term but also in the long term. That it allows us to operate more effectively in hostile environments is unquestioned. But, as my former chief often asserted, sometimes the most dangerous moments during our response are going to and returning from an incident.
Besides safety measures implemented during the past 25 years that have brought firefighters inside the apparatus and those designed to keep interior equipment from becoming airborne, there are myriad safety elements incorporated into today's apparatus to protect us.
Although some rigs have seating in the rear, the cab of the truck is where firefighters will spend most of their time when responding to incidents. It's natural that many of the safety features added to protect them will be in the chassis.
According to Ulisses Parmeziani, vice president of operations for Seagrave Fire Apparatus, LLC, the company offers a safety cage cab design that combines structural design, material selection, manufacturing, and design standards to protect occupants in cases of rolling over and front and side impact. "Seagrave's rigid stainless steel subassembly totally surrounds and protects occupants," he says. "The entire structure of a Seagrave cab can take a real beating in high pressure and heat because it's mounted on a main support sill of four- by three-inch carbon steel tubing using 1.25-inch diameter pins made of 4140 high-tensile steel. The sill has a thickness of 5/16 inches." He adds that cage tubing wraps completely around the cab interior, the roof, side walls, back wall, floor, and across the front, even wrapping around the door posts for added strength. Wrapped corners provide added protection in the event of a corner impact. A stainless steel skin and stainless steel overlay plates adhere to the cage tubing, which Parmeziani claims is especially important to increase penetration resistance to falling debris in cities with high-rise buildings.
Each E-ONE custom chassis is also designed with a structural roll-cage cab to provide protection for firefighters, states Amanda Gummer, marketing and communications manager for E-ONE. "In recent third-party testing, our cab structure withstood over five times the static roof load and over twice the frontal impact required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and SAE," she says. These chassis offer structural extrusions including subframes, a full flange wishbone frame rail, center uprights, and crossbeam extrusions. "Horizontal and vertical supports carry severe vertical loads that can occur in an accident," adds Gummer. "The exterior cab skin material and cab door skins are made of 3/16-inch aluminum alloy sheets for added strength."
"A similar structural roll cage can also be found on all E-ONE body designs, assisting in the protection of the chassis in the event of a rollover," asserts Joe Hedges, E-ONE product manager. "Interlocking aluminum extrusions with aluminum plates throughout our bodies result in strong yet lightweight vehicles."
Paul Christiansen, marketing director at Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says when the company redesigned its Inferno/Igniter cab to meet new EPA emissions requirements, it also took other steps to protect the firefighter from injury. For example, it lowered the cab step height, which is now 19 to 21 inches from ground to first step depending on tire size. This is three to five inches below NFPA requirements. Additionally he states, "Our windshield and side glass are oversized for improved visibility. The cab itself has a roll cage design that protects the firefighter in the event of a collision."
Other cab features are more systemic, involving different ways of slowing a vehicle to avoid rollovers as well as components to protect firefighters inside should a rollover still occur.
Mike Moore, vice president, business development, at Pierce Manufacturing, cites Pierce's electronic stability control (ESC) automatic safety management braking system as one example of a rollover avoidance system. "ESC monitors a fire truck's cornering and will, if necessary, automatically reduce engine rpm and selectively apply brakes to individual wheels to bring the vehicle back to its intended direction," he says.
Another Pierce innovation is its TAK-4 independent front suspension system. It shortens stopping distance by up to 23 percent, says Moore, improves ride quality, enhances vehicle control, improves durability, and simplifies maintenance.
E-ONE has an exclusive ESC system called G4™. The system uses sensors on each wheel to constantly monitor driving conditions. "When critical lateral acceleration is detected or if the tires begin to slip," says Hedges," the system intervenes to offer more stability during evasive maneuvers and more confidence behind the wheel." The company also has an on-site tilt table that allows product designs to be validated on campus. "Although not an NFPA requirement, we conduct this test to ensure stability," says Gummer.
Although these systems can help apparatus operators avoid rollover situations, accidents do sometimes occur. Phil Gerace, director of sales and marketing for KME, says that KME Predator custom chassis include full occupant protection. "KME's Total Occupant Protection (TOP™) system is designed to give all cab occupants the ultimate protection in the event of a collision or rollover," he says. To that end, KME cabs feature IMMI's 4Front™ frontal collision protection (air bags) and RollTek™ rollover occupant protection. "These systems deploy within a quarter of a second to help protect firefighters by pretensioning the seat belts, lowering air seats to the safest position, and engaging air bag cushions or engaging a steering wheel air bag to protect the head and neck of the driver, while inflating a knee bolster air bag to protect the officer's knees," says Gerace. He adds that rollover protection side air bags will soon be integrated into firefighters' seats so that regardless of their height or seat position, the bag will be in the optimal safety position.
Pierce offers its Side Roll Protection system to help protect in the event of an imminent roll. "When the Side Roll Protection system senses a roll," says Moore, "a series of actions is triggered to tighten the seat belts, lower and lock down the seats to eliminate movement, and inflate tubular side air bags and curtains."
Seagrave also incorporates the RollTek rollover protection system for additional protection.
Protecting firefighters inside an ambulance presents a different set of challenges. Firefighters in the back of ambulances are moving around much more, reaching for various supplies, and protection systems must be engineered to keep personnel seated while allowing them freedom of movement.
Chad Newsome, national sales manager, PL Custom Body and Equipment Co., Inc. says P.L. Custom Emergency Vehicles has worked to address real-world safety concerns for both the EMT and firefighter working in its ambulances and the patients these crews care for. "The PL Custom standard ambulance interior layout includes 45-degree upper cabinets, radiused cabinet corner edges, and dual retracting seat belts, allowing seated personnel to move while remaining seated," he says. "The interior is designed to provide a safe working environment by keeping all necessary equipment within easy reach."
Other safety features include upper and lower five- by two-inch impact safety rails welded into the side structural framework along the full length of the ambulance body. Full height compartment doors protect the ambulance and occupants from injury in the event of an impact. Seat belts are secured to structurally reinforced framework in the body side walls. "The module body framework is a fully welded roll cage structure of 6061T-6 aluminum tubes on 12-inch centers with 0.125-inch 5052 H-34 single-piece aluminum skin panels on the body sides and roof," adds Newsome.
Chad Braun, executive sales manager, Braun Industries, Inc. says Braun has worked extensively on seating arrangements and securing paramedics and EMTs through different seats in place of squad benches and CPR-style seats. These include more restraint systems consisting of three-, four-, and six-point seat belt systems. "We have also gone with an ergonomic interior design to keep the firefighter/paramedic seated and restrained in the seat," says Braun. "They still have to perform their job duties, so we have laid out an interior that puts all their equipment and tools within reach of their seated positions. We have also designed the interior cabinets with rounded interior corners to eliminate sharp points."
The Horton Occupant Protection System (HOPS) includes air bag deployment in key areas of the body module to protect personnel in the event of a rollover, progressive resistance head cushions to dissipate energy from impacted body parts to improve survival and reduce injury severity, and a removable chest strap on three-point restraint systems to allow improved upper body movement for personnel while seated and belted, according to Steve Cole, manager, Rescue Division, Horton Emergency Vehicles.
Beyond the Cab
Besides getting to and from an incident, getting in and out of a vehicle as well as retrieving and stowing gear on the rig can cause firefighter injuries. Although apparatus manufacturers adhere to NFPA safety standards, many innovations originate from unique fire department requests. They also, in some cases, become standard features in future apparatus.
For example, Los Angeles County, California, worked with KME to develop its Lock-N-Load™ hosebed cover. "It is a tread plate cover that rolls back onto itself, allowing one person to roll it back and lift it completely out of the way," says Gerace. While in the open position, positive locking gas struts keep the cover open and the cover locks in the closed position.
Mike Marquis, vice president, sales, Rescue 1, cites the popularity and evolution of rooftop compartments as creating a safety concern for departments. "The concern is that an unsuspecting firefighter could accidentally step off the roof," he says. " ‘Mansaver' bars and walled partitions at the end of the roof walkway have been requested by some departments to address this concern."
He adds that most walk-around rescues built by Rescue 1 today feature a full lift-up stairway to access the upper compartments. "This previous option has now become a standard offering on most rescues built today," he adds. "These lift-up stairs offer safe access to the rooftop in any weather conditions." The steps are constructed with grip-strut grating for sure footing in any type of weather conditions. "The perimeter edging of the stairway is finished with reflective striping," Marquis says. "Flashing red LEDs are located on each side of the steps for additional illumination in the dark."
Besides the stairs, Rescue 1 adds reflective striping to the edges of all shelving and slide-out trays for additional visibility in the dark. Speaking of trays, Marquis asserts that the safety issue with these trays is not the capacity rating but the serious injuries that can occur when sliding and tilting the tray if a firefighter is not expecting and bracing for the heavy weight of the tray and equipment. "Rescue 1 has developed an air-assisted slide-out/tilt-down tray that prevents a rapid deployment of the equipped trays," he says. "The air-assisted tray can be adjusted to operate safely with any weight load. It also helps return the tray back to its stowed position."
With the growing popularity of oil dry hoppers, Rescue 1 also developed a way to save firefighters' backs when loading the hopper. "The storage compartments are located on the roof, requiring heavy bags of material to be carried to the roof for reloading," says Marquis. "Rescue 1 developed an electric vacuum reloading feature to prevent back injuries. The absorbent material is drawn from ground level up to the rooftop storage compartment. The system is equipped with a sensor to shut down the vacuum when the absorbent bin is full."
Customers demanded low, ground-accessible hosebeds from Alexis Fire Equipment, according to Jeff Morris, president, Alexis Fire Equipment. He adds that cartridged preconnects that lay behind the cab for ground accessibility and ease of hose loading are now standard. He adds that these features are customer-driven as well as by the company's own R&D. "We listen to our customers and meet their needs in the safest, most efficient manner possible," says Morris. "Many times this means out-of-the-box thinking to meet objectives safely."
Moore adds, "All Pierce R&D efforts are customer-driven in the sense that Pierce develops products and innovations that are directed at solving issues faced by the people who use them. Pierce conducts formal and informal research with firefighters to help identify their priorities and needs."
"We have several innovations which are now standard on all E-ONE apparatus," says Hedges. "[These include] E-ONE's patented Gator Grip® nonslip stepping surface to reduce slipping; a serrated edge on top of our rub rail to reduce slipping; and integral nonslip extruded aluminum ladder rungs instead of rubber rung covers, which can wear out, fall off, and do not reach the entire width of the rung."
Safe and Practical
Many innovations that have safety in mind are also very practical. For example, Christiansen says Ferrara put a 45-degree outward break on the outer edge of adjustable shelves located in the lower portion of a compartment. "This makes it easier for firefighters to retrieve heavy equipment and really makes sense when you think about it," he says. "When lifting, that 45-degree bend makes it much easier to get that equipment over the edge of the shelf."
Harold Boer, president, Rosenbauer America, says Rosenbauer has incorporated many European designs of equipment-mounting devices, such as swing- out trays and tool boards to help prevent back injuries. "We have also developed a folding stair-step type of access ladder to access aerial turntables and hosebeds on pumpers," he says. "This gives a much larger step area and is inclined to give a safer climbing angle. We have also developed powered equipment storage devices for ladders, hard suction hoses, portatanks, and hosebeds on aerials to reduce the need to climb on the truck, reducing the potential for falling."
Practical, but safe, innovations at Crimson Fire include pullout steps integrated into the tailboard, pump houses, and so on that provide more surface area to stand on to perform various duties on the apparatus, according to Bill Doebler, vice president, sales and marketing. "New features are always customer-driven, in one shape or form," he says. "Listening to the customer is the key to designing and building innovative, quality, durable, and safe products." Other Crimson features include dual swing-out drives on aerial devices that provide a smoother rotation and less backlash, sliding aerial controls in the platform that allow firefighters to move controls to optimum operating positions, and a standing platform outside the platform that provides more surface area to perform safe rescue techniques. "The Crimson Fire Smart Loader is a flip-down hosebed wall that also serves as a stepping surface to assist loading hose on a side-stack hosebed," adds Doebler. "The HydraLoad is a hydraulically driven side-stack hosebed that lowers the hosebed height to 20 inches from the ground."
SVI Trucks designs padded head bumpers into its apparatus–especially walk-in rescue, hazmat, and command trucks where personnel may bump their heads while moving around the apparatus, states Steve Houchin, regional sales manager, SVI Trucks. Other safety features SVI incorporates include rear stairways to provide safer access to upper roof compartments and slide-out trays and tool boards that provide easier and safer access to loose equipment. In addition, "SVI Trucks designs a winch that extends from the upper portion of an exterior compartment, which allows easier removal of heavy fire/rescue equipment from the compartment," he adds.
KME AerialCats™ include rung covers with an aggressive gripping surface for both hands and feet, according to Gerace. "Each rung cover also features photoluminescent bands that help orient you to your climbing path in low lighting conditions," he says. Should a department need additional illumination, KME offers the LED Lumabar Pathfinder™ walkway lights that provide total illumination of the aerial walkway.
The company's Store Front Blitz feature on its rear-mount ladders allows the tip of the ladder to be positioned inside a storefront or structure, for a blitz interior attack without putting personnel into harm's way.
KME's PRO™ rescue-pumper eliminated discharges from the operator work area to the front, rear, and officer's side of the truck. A camera system allows the operator to see the other side of the truck to maintain view of hydrant and pump operations.
What to Expect
There will be no shortage of safety innovations in 2012 and beyond. Seagrave has two things to watch out for.
Parmeziani says seat belts will have an option for an adjustable "D" loop (upper seat belt anchor) or the ready reach option, a device that positions the seat belt forward about six inches from the upper anchor, making the seat belt easier to reach when in turnout gear.
"Seagrave applied for a patent and is launching a double redundant electrical system for aerial devices," Parmeziani adds. "So, if one system becomes inoperable because of a component or condition, the redundant system automatically starts to operate the aerial device in a way that is transparent to the operator." He says this prevents firefighters or civilians from being trapped in a hazardous situation while waiting for a manual backup system. "Additionally, Seagrave offers autodiagnosis of the system to allow for quick identification and resolution," Parmeziani adds.
Gerace expects to see electronic stability control for tankers and 4x4 units. "In addition, there will be a trend toward simplifying operations on vehicles so controls are intuitive and operation procedures are clear."
On the ambulance side, Newsome says seat belt monitoring systems and vehicle data recorders are welcome additions to improving the safety environment for those providing and receiving emergency care but cautions that new trends in design safety must have a definable benefit. "When new ideas and designs are presented, look into them fully. The best new ambulance with the coolest new gadgets can't help anyone if it cannot be easily serviced."
Cole expects to see SRS frontal impact air bags to become available on commercial vehicle chassis.
Look Beyond Standards
The NFPA provides industrywide direction on increasing firefighter safety. Hedges cites eliminating open cabs, step heights, warning light requirements, and occupant detection systems as just a few.
Marquis states that manufacturers should look beyond NFPA requirements. "Most fire departments have chosen to follow guidelines published by the NFPA," he says. "As an emergency vehicle manufacturer, we need to look beyond these requirements to develop the next generation of innovative ideas and continue to critique how the equipment is built and operated by each fire department."
Morris states Alexis keeps firefighter safety and NFPA guidelines at the forefront of the design process rather than addressing them during the build process. "This way, all questions have been addressed and the safety issues resolved in a way that is agreeable to the customer and is acceptable to the NFPA and other industry-leading standards."
Doebler adds that overall, today's fire apparatus are becoming more safe by almost all means–from applying more visible striping and lettering to lowering equipment to a more ergonomic and usable height.
But, don't skimp on these safety features, warns Joseph Neiner, chairman and CEO of Seagrave. "In these economic times, there is more pressure than ever to cut costs, but you can't compromise safety," he says. "A savvy apparatus purchasing decision should never be based on price alone."
Finally, Christiansen reminds firefighters to not forget the operator when it comes to safety. "The progression of NFPA standards has led to significant upgrades in safety," he says. "Cab strength requirements, vehicle rollover protection, and positive-latching SCBA brackets are just a few examples. However, the bottom line on safety usually comes down to the person operating the apparatus and/or other vehicles on the highway."
CHRIS Mc LOONE, associate editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is an 18-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has been a writer and editor for more than 15 years. While with Fire Engineering, he contributed to the May 2006 issue, a Jesse H. Neal Award winner for its coverage of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery.