By Bill Adams
Is common sense a lost commodity? What committee would purchase a half-million dollar fire apparatus without first sitting in it, driving it, and attempting to get in and out of it—when wearing full turnout gear? Equally inexplicable is not having the active firefighters do the same. It’s amazing, but it happens all the time. At a recent trade show, the fictitious apparatus purchasing committee; wearing shorts, sneakers, and tee shirts; was evaluating various custom cabs. Two members declined to, or could not, haul themselves up into any of the cabs. All five-feet, seven inches, and 150 pounds of the committee chairman sat in the driver’s seat while other committee members climbed into the crew cab. The vendor purposely occupied the officer’s seat while delivering his punch’n’judy show. The scenario was repeated at several manufacturers’ booths. Specifications tailored to the preferred chassis were written, put to bid, and the favored rig was ordered. When it arrived, World War III commenced.
The committee made a big mistake—everyone hated the cab. Career personnel may have no recourse; it goes with the job and paycheck. What if volunteers say, “I don’t like it,” or, “There’s not enough room,” or “I’m not comfortable driving it”? It is disquieting to hear, “You drive it; I’m not.” What does the chief do—take complaining firefighters out back and shoot them? Is it unfathomable that proprietary purchasing specifications would be written for a cab when the rank and file drivers have not had the opportunity to, at the least, sit in the rig let alone drive it? Don’t get caught up in bells, whistles, and sales hype. Practicality should prevail. Purchasing committees have a tough job and so do the people who get up at three in the morning to drive a fire truck. Make their jobs easier.
Regardless of whether members are appraising cabs and chassis by sitting in them or driving them, they should do so wearing full turnout gear (sans the helmet, of course). It’s difficult evaluating if the accelerator and brake pedal are too close together when wearing flip-flops. Ditto for when accessing and egressing the cab. It’s easier in sneakers than in bunker pants and boots. What is actually worn when firefighters are responding? Are firefighters going to “hold their helmet” when exiting the cab? Or, are helmets donned in the cab after arrival? Or, are they carried out of the cab and donned in the street? Use prudence when storing ancillary equipment in the cab. Firefighters should safely exit the cab while carrying whatever it is you want them to. A medical bag, thermal imaging camera, the “irons,” multigas meter, portable hand lantern, or a spare SCBA cylinder may require one hand to carry. Don’t forget: “one hand for me and one hand for thee.” Maybe that stuff doesn’t belong in the cab.
Most newer apparatus have the motor up front between the driver and officer. Sitting space is at a premium. Depending on the manufacturer, larger motors require larger doghouses. Buyers, beware. Some manufacturers offer different cab widths. Don’t mistakenly sit in a wider cab then inadvertently write specs for the narrow one. When test driving a rig, do it with the driver’s window in the up position. When evaluating the officer’s seating position, physically don an SCBA—again with the window up and full turnout gear on. Can the officer easily pack up, retrieve a map book or access an onboard computer and still have a place to “compliantly” store that leather helmet? Be advised, requirements for access steps and handrails on a cab are the same as they are for the body.
By the way, when I mentioned earlier that the vendor purposely chose the officer’s seat to sit in while talking to the purchasing committee, it was for a reason. In many custom cabs, the driver’s seating area is sometimes several inches wider than the officer’s. Bring your tape measure with your turnout gear when evaluating cabs. Remember to include all the stuff you carry in your pockets.
Preference is not given to any manufacturer or cab style or configuration. That’s a local matter. Refer to NFPA 1901 when addressing “driving and crew areas.” We may address it in detail later—unless, of course you want to. Contact Associate Editor Chris McLoone with comments.
BILL ADAMS is a former fire apparatus salesman, a past chief, and an active member of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has more than 45 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.