By Roger Lackore
Any truck fleet manager will tell you that slips, trips, and falls are the most common causes of truck operator injuries.
When you consider that most truck operators are not encumbered with protective clothing, self-contained breathing apparatus, and a variety of equipment hanging from their belts, it stands to reason that as firefighters we need to be even more careful. Whether getting into or out of the cab or climbing onto or off of the exterior, we must discipline ourselves to take the right approach every time.
The Right Way to Climb
The over-arching rule of safety when climbing is called having “three points of contact.” This rule means that you keep three of your four appendages (hands and feet) in contact with the apparatus at all times. Starting by facing the apparatus with both feet on the ground and both hands grasping a handrail or other secure structure, lift one foot at a time onto the first step, platform, or rung. Before grasping something higher, make sure both feet are firmly planted and you hold on with your other hand. Continue in this fashion, always making sure you have one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot, in contact with the apparatus at all times. Climbing off is the same thing in reverse-make sure you face the apparatus as you descend.
This is a pretty simple concept, but it is important enough that it deserves some attention. Avoid the temptation to cut corners; professionals never do. If this technique is not second nature, take 10 minutes each day to practice climbing and descending using the three points of contact method until you are doing it every time without thinking. At first you may need to concentrate, but soon you will establish muscle memory and you can climb and descend safely every time.
The Right Place to Climb
Apparatus in compliance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, will have at least one spot on the apparatus exterior where you can climb using three points of contact. This may be at the back of the apparatus, near the pump panel, or elsewhere depending on your configuration. You might find areas where there are steps to help you reach controls or equipment higher up but where it is not possible to maintain three points of contact all the way to the top. If this is the case, don’t continue to climb. Find the route on the apparatus that allows you three points of contact and climb there. If you can’t find features to provide a safe climb, contact your fire department safety officer and have the apparatus modified or repaired.
Once you reach the top of most apparatus, it is unlikely that you will have railings to guard you from a fall. Railings are impractical on the top of fire apparatus for a host of obvious reasons including bridge clearance, tree-limb clearance, and interference with aerial ladders. This means that if you are on top of an apparatus, you must be responsible for your own safety. Crouch low and hold on to solid features on the apparatus. If you must stand up, do so only toward the center of the apparatus where you are at less risk of toppling off if you trip.
The Right Surface to Step On
Usually stepping, standing, or walking surfaces are obvious. They should have a slip-resistant feature and be free of any no-step labeling. But, just because a surface has a slip-resistant feature does not mean it is an approved place to step. Apparatus manufacturers purchase special aluminum diamondplate material that has a cross-hatch feature on the top of each diamond. This cross-hatching gives the surface the slip-resistance performance required by the NFPA. However, this same material may be used for protecting apparatus features from wear and tear as well. You may find it on vertical or sloped surfaces, or it may be on features otherwise not intended for stepping or walking. Never step on a surface that does not have a slip-resistant feature, but don’t assume that slip resistance means it is a safe surface to step on. Consult your safety officer and manufacturer to be sure.
The Right Place to Store Equipment
The best way to avoid the risks of climbing is not to do it in the first place. Avoid the need to climb on your apparatus by storing items in compartments that can be reached from the ground. If your department stores equipment on top of the apparatus, ask why. You may hear the answer, “because we’ve always done it that way.” That is the best reason of all to suggest a change. Why wait for someone to get hurt? Be proactive and find a way to minimize the need to climb. Never locate equipment on the top of the apparatus unless you can reach it safely.
The Right Attitude
At the Fire Apparatus Manufacturer’s Association (FAMA), we are always looking for ways to keep you safe. We can provide the tools, but it is up to you keep your head in the game and develop the right attitude. Firefighters are professionals in safety, and it is imperative that you live up to this expectation. Train on the safe methods of getting on and off your rig just like you train on other firefighting techniques. Hold on with both hands, face that awesome rig proudly, and follow the right methods every time you climb.
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 a professional engineer and a certified safety professional and has 27 years of design experience in the heavy vehicle industry.
The over-arching rule of safety when climbing is called having “three points of contact.” This means that you keep three of your four appendages (hands and feet) in contact with the apparatus at all times. If this technique is not second nature, take 10 minutes each day to practice climbing and descending until you are doing it every time without thinking.