By Robert Tutterow
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1917, Standard for Automotive Ambulances, was finalized last summer. It is now in effect and applies to all ambulances contracted on or after January 1 of this year. This is the first time the NFPA has issued a standard for ambulances. This column will take a look at some of the safety features within the new standard.
The decision for the NFPA to develop an ambulance standard came with the blessings of the United States General Services Association (GSA), which is responsible for the development of the Triple K federal “purchasing” document. Somehow through the years, Triple K’s purchasing document had become the industry standard for ambulance design but was outdated and lacked design, performance, and safety requirements. It was time for a change, and the NFPA’s standards development system and its fit within the emergency response community was chosen as the best approach. Key people involved in the GSA’s purchasing document are active on the NFPA 1917 technical committee.
The standard has nine chapters and two annexes. Let’s look at the key safety issues.
• Chapter One, Administration: The stated purpose of the standard is to establish minimum standards for safety and reliability.
• Chapters Two and Three list the referenced publications and definitions, respectively; no direct safety issues are addressed.
• Chapter 4 General Requirements: Similar to NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, the purchaser must provide a list of all equipment to be carried to determine a correct payload. The purchaser is also responsible for all training on the driving and operation of the unit. The contractor must provide a thorough description of all the construction and performance details of the unit. All medical devices must comply with all applicable Federal Drug Administration (FDA) requirements. Parts of the unit that require independent third-party certification must be certified by a certification agency that is accredited by ISO/IEC 17020 or ISO/IEC 17025.
There are personnel protection requirements to guard against excessive heat, moving parts, and rotating parts. Electrical insulation or isolation is required to prevent electrical shock. There cannot be any sharp edges or projections. All exterior labels must be retroreflective or illuminated. All switches and controls operated by the driver must be within easy reach of a seated and belted driver. And, all switches and controls operated by an EMS provider (not driving) must also be within easy reach when in the seated and belted position.
The performance requirements include the ability to travel a minimum of 250 miles without refueling. There is a maximum speed limit of 77 miles per hour (mph) or the maximum speed of the tire rating if it is lower. There are also acceleration requirements. Inexplicably, there are no braking performance requirements. One requirement not found in NFPA 1901 is the ability to ford 100 feet of eight-inch-deep water at five mph without water penetrating the patient or equipment compartments. This test must be performed three times.
There is an extensive list of documents a contractor must supply to the purchaser. As with fire apparatus, there is also the important “Statement of Exceptions” that spells out who is responsible for making the unit compliant with the standard if it is not totally compliant when delivered.
• Chapter 5, Chassis: A highly visible label must be in the cab that provides the overall height and the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). The front gross axle weight rating (GAWR) cannot be less than 20 percent of the GVWR and the rear GAWR not less than 50 percent of the GVRW. The lateral weight distribution must not vary more than five percent. Protection must be installed to prevent exhaust heat burns. Tire pressure monitoring is required for each tire. Type I and Type III ambulances must have an integrated step in the front bumper. There are minimum and maximum depths of this step. The rear stepping surface must support a 500-pound load, and the maximum height is 22 inches. Dual mirrors (driver side and passenger side) are required and must have a flat and convex mirror. There are no size requirements, but the mirrors must extend at least one inch beyond the width of the ambulance body. All mirrors must be adjustable from the driver’s position.
Next month, I will cover other safety aspects of the ambulance with an emphasis on the patient compartment.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).