By Roger Lackore
Director of Product Safety
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Fire Department Apparatus is the group that maintains the standards that specify the minimum requirements for automotive fire apparatus and trailers. For decades, this committee has considered revisions to the wildland and municipal standards on different schedules. Many requirements are applicable to both types of apparatus, so the fact that the standards were revised on different schedules created a degree of inconsistency.
To address this, the committee delayed revising the municipal standard and pulled forward the wildland standard. Beginning with the current cycle, revisions for both NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, and NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus, will be considered together. This schedule will allow the committee to address issues that are common to both standards at the same time, keeping them current with one another.
Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) members have been actively participating on this committee for decades. They educate committee members on new apparatus safety features and benefits and keep the content of each standard technically sound. Since most fire departments adopt these standards as the foundation for new apparatus purchases, it is critical that changes to the standard are technically feasible and cost-effective and can be implemented on time.
The importance of the NFPA apparatus standards cannot be overstated. They are the established minimum criteria for apparatus that will provide safer operation for firefighters and the public they serve. Chiefs and safety officers should be intimately familiar with the content of these standards; how their fleets comply with these standards; and when old apparatus need to be retired, refurbished, or replaced.
Although individuals should not avoid reading the standards, there are other ways to become educated. FAMA has many downloadable resources to assist fire departments in understanding recent changes, navigating the NFPA process, keeping up with NFPA changes, and helping promote the benefits of safety features on new apparatus. Many of these resources are provided in presentation format for use at meetings within the fire department or with outside decision makers. These resources are available for free download at www.fama.org.
Potential Topics for Consideration
Although you might have thought that major changes in the 2009 edition of NFPA 1901 addressed all possible issues, there are still a number of topics that appear on the horizon. It is likely that the committee will be considering proposals to increase the minimum size of apparatus seating in response to a firefighter size and weight study completed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Since the widths of most custom cabs are already at or near the legal limit, significant changes to seat width requirements would eliminate the four-across seat configuration popular with some departments.
A likely topic for consideration on the wildland side will be the practice of allowing firefighters to ride on the back of apparatus during pump-and-roll operations. This is a common approach in certain regions for fighting grass fires, but it is counter to the fundamental philosophy that firefighters must be seated, belted, and inside an enclosed cab anytime the apparatus rolls. The committee will be challenged to provide some means of addressing this perceived need without compromising safety.
Advanced technology such as collision avoidance warning systems and automatic braking may be on the docket. The committee always struggles with balancing the cost of additional features with their potential benefits, particularly in light of the current tight budgets that departments have been struggling with lately.
We can also expect some cross pollination to occur between fire apparatus and ambulance standards. The Ambulance Manufacturer’s Division (AMD) of the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) has partnered with NIOSH to study the interaction between the occupant and the vehicle features in a crash. Other studies involve equipment mounting, cot mounting, seat mounting, and body integrity. This work may not be completed in time for this revision cycle but it will definitely stimulate discussion.
The Standards Development Process
The NFPA uses a method of standards development known as a consensus process. This method ensures that the committee membership is balanced, that it is not weighted toward any particular interest group, and that there is ample opportunity for public comments to be considered.
At the time of this writing, the NFPA had received more than 100 public comments on NFPA 1901 alone. This public comment period closed on July 8. The public comment period is the time in the revision cycle where anyone is free to make comments on any aspect of the standard. The committee considers each comment as it works to create a first draft document. This first draft will then be open for public comments again, but only on those items that are being proposed for change. The committee will consider these comments and create a second draft, and it will be balloted for adoption and publication in 2016.
Participating in the Process
The NFPA has established a new online method for submitting comments that greatly improves the efficiency of committee work while allowing noncommittee member voices to be heard. Visit www.nfpa.org and follow the “codes and standards” link to view the standards, download meeting schedules, and submit comments.
As the committee launches its efforts on another revision cycle, we at FAMA encourage all in the fire service to join in the discussion. Much of the initial work is completed in task groups that are open to all interested parties. Even if you can’t make the meetings, follow the progress by reading the reports and meeting minutes online and submitting comments for consideration. The only way for the committee to be influenced by public interests is for the public to speak up, and the best people to know what fire apparatus should look like are the members of the fire service who use them.
ROGER LACKORE is the director of product safety for Oshkosh Corporation. He has a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management. He is licensed as a professional engineer and a certified safety professional. Lackore has 27 years of design experience in the heavy vehicle industry.