By Robert Tutterow
The apparatus bay is the only space that is a common denominator of fire stations across the globe.
How can you have a station without one? From a health, safety, and accident prevention perspective, a lot of information about bays has emerged in recent years that fire departments should address.
As one who reviewed all vehicle accidents in my 42-station department for 24 years, it was not unusual to see “vehicle vs. overhead door” in the reports. Amazingly, almost all the accidents occurred while responding out of the station on a call. Rarely did I see a report when the accident occurred while returning into the station or leaving the station for a nonemergency response…hmmm. Some of the incidents were truly amazing-including at least two where the truck went through the door when there was no attempt to leave the station. In both cases, the engine was started in the station for unnecessary reasons and “stuff happened.” One Christmas Eve incident was particularly noteworthy. I arrived at the station to see the entire roll-up door laid out across the cab and the entire hosebed of the truck. Almost the entire front of the station wall collapsed. As the saying goes, “You can’t make some of this stuff up!” So much for war stories. You get the point. It has been, and continues to be, an issue.
Does your station have bay doors in the front and the rear for driving through, or just at the front for backing in? A drive-through bay offers many advantages-if it is truly drive-through. The need for backing is minimized and thus the chances of an accident are minimized. Unfortunately, many (if not most) drive-through bays end up being back-in bays because of other apparatus, vehicles, or equipment stored behind the primary response vehicle. Another advantage of a drive-through is that secondary apparatus or vehicles can respond out the back if parked behind a primary response vehicle. Drive-through bays also offer a secondary means of exiting the station if one of the opposite facing doors is inoperative for whatever reason. The amount of land available for the station often determines if drive-through bays are feasible. Drive-throughs require a lot more real estate.
There are some advantages to back-in-only bays. They might allow for the sleeping areas of the station to be directly located behind the bays, thus providing firefighters direct and quicker access to the bay. And, some people maintain that regular backing increases the skills of the driver/operator.
Four-fold bay doors (horizontally hinged) are becoming increasingly popular with new stations. They can be retrofitted to many existing stations if there is enough interior floor space available-the opening space typically requires a minimum of four feet of available floor space for the door to open. The four-fold doors open much faster and are far less likely to be struck by an apparatus. The driver can easily tell when the doors are fully open. Models are available that are hardened for ballistics, hurricanes, and tornadoes. These doors are very heavy duty and tested to go through more than a million cycles of opening and closing. Though they are expensive on the front end, they require minimal maintenance. Larger municipal departments have done a cost analysis and found that the initial high cost of the doors is easily justified because of the reduced maintenance costs compared to traditional roll-up doors.
Several departments have installed four-fold doors for the front of the station while keeping traditional roll-up doors in the rear. This is primarily a cost savings initiative, but is a good way to get four-fold doors introduced into the department.
Slips and falls are a common cause of injury on the apparatus floor. A big contributor to slips and falls is water or other fluids on the floor. To minimize liquids from accumulating on the floor, proper drainage is required. The best way to address drainage is with trench drains (approximately 24 feet long) underneath each apparatus position. The floor should be sectioned so that water goes to each of these drains without running across foot traffic pathways. Of course, a proper base combined with proper installation of the concrete floor is imperative to prevent cracking and uneven settling of the floor from repeated use by heavy apparatus. A cracked floor can be a trip hazard.
There is considerable discussion on the best type of flooring for a station. Polished concrete floors are probably the most common. However, they can be very slick and contribute to slips and falls. A better option is to use a high-performance coating such as methyl methacrylate (MMA). These coatings, if properly selected, will offer slip resistance, chemical resistance, temperature extreme resistance, and abrasive cleaning resistance. Moreover, they are available in colors. Nothing sets an apparatus bay apart like using colors to designate passageways and apparatus positioning. The pathway designations provide an inherent safety factor for both people assigned to the station as well as visitors. For an added touch, graphics can be incorporated into these floor coatings.
More about apparatus bay floors in coming issues.
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 Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).