|Chris Mc Loone|
July 2016 didn’t have many good news stories to report when it came to fire apparatus. There were the usual new delivery stories reporting on the trucks themselves along with the excitement that comes with them for both the public and fire department personnel.
But, there were a few stories that we should all be aware of so we can learn from their outcomes.
In Nevada, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) vehicle carrying three firefighters in their 20s rolled over and killed two of the passengers. Officials pointed toward possible tire failure in the accident. In Hoyt, Kansas, a fire apparatus crash claimed the life of a tanker/tender driver and injured another. A tire blowout is blamed for the accident. And near Shelton, Nebraska, a fire apparatus tire blew out, causing the apparatus to leave the road, hit a grain bin, and come to rest on a mound of dirt.
The common denominator here I want to talk about is not the tires blowing out. True, I’ve gone on rants before about preventable accidents, driving under control, and knowing your vehicles. That’s not where I’m going to go. And, I’m not going to go into preventive maintenance (PM), which would be an obvious approach to take. That wouldn’t be fair though. Not only are details on each fire department’s PM programs unavailable, but even the most comprehensive PM program available cannot account for the unexpected occurring. No, the common denominator I wish to discuss is that all three of these were instances of accidents occurring while apparatus were returning from incidents or travelling at nonemergency speed to an event—a parade, in the case of the Hoyt, Kansas, tragedy.
I call attention to these three because we often feel that driving at emergency speed with lights and sirens is the truly dangerous part of our responses. But, as these three incidents highlight, and which a former chief of mine used to drill into us constantly, returning from the fire—and often backing into the firehouse, probably the shortest part of the trip—can be the most dangerous part of the trip.
Never let your guard down. I know that, for many, this might be obvious, but we know that these types of tragedies show no age discrimination whatsoever. To be young is to be full of confidence. To be old is to be full of wisdom, but there is a confidence that comes from possessing that wisdom. Never be overconfident behind the wheel of a fire apparatus. Always be on the lookout for the unexpected and be ready to react to it. Tragedies occur; this we know. And sometimes you can do everything right but still end up with a negative outcome. In “Fire Apparatus Tire Blowouts, Case Studies and Causes, Part 1,” available at www.fireapparatus.com, author Chris Daly states, “While many may think that the catastrophic failure of a tire is a rare event, they are actually much more common than we might think. The fire apparatus operator must be trained and prepared to handle the sudden and violent loss of control associated with a tire blowout.” In the month of July alone, we heard of three of these catastrophic events. How many more did we not hear about?
The intent here is not to judge the apparatus operators or their departments. Rather, the purpose is to use these three incidents as talking points. Ask your operators if they feel confident that they could bring an apparatus to a safe stop if a tire blew out during or after a response. If there is any doubt whatsoever, plan a training night for your drivers to go over it and, if necessary, bring in trainers from outside the company. Make sure your drivers are honest with themselves and you. As Daly says, these events are more common than you might think.
In the coming months, expect to see reports here and on www.fireapparatus.com regarding a fire apparatus skid testing evolution that will take place in Pennsylvania this month. Chris Daly will be conducting the testing that he says will provide firefighters with an opportunity to observe the actual stopping distances of fire apparatus and how they compare to standard vehicles. The testing will help crash investigators more accurately reconstruct future apparatus crashes. More importantly for the firefighters and apparatus operators in attendance will be witnessing how a fire truck reacts when skidding to a stop and the total stopping distance. I expect that anyone in attendance will leave with a new appreciation for the physics of responding fire apparatus.