By Raul A. Angulo
The August 21, 2004, headline of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read, “Girl dies after being struck by hose from fire truck. Authorities baffled by bizarre accident.”
It was a Thursday summer afternoon on August 19, 2004, when the engine of the Coraopolis (PA) Volunteer Fire Department was pulling the hill on Chess St. The members were responding to a reported basement fire on the 400 block of Mount Vernon Ave. As they were approaching the intersection, about 30 feet of 1¾-inch hose came out of the Mattydale slot. The nozzle caught the edge of a car tire and deployed the rest of the load, taking out a birdbath and two hibiscus plants before the tension pulled the nozzle loose, causing it to swing around like a giant whip. The six-pound nozzle struck two 10-year-old girls on the right side of their heads. One was killed as a result of a brain stem injury and the other was seriously injured and disfigured. The noise of the diesel engine climbing the hill, the siren, and the fact that the crew members had already donned their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) face pieces prevented them from hearing or noticing what had happened. Two years later, a jury awarded the families $5 million.
It happened again on October 18, 2014. A 58-year-old male was riding his bicycle when a Toledo, Ohio, fire apparatus on an emergency response lost 150 feet of 1¾-inch hose, and the nozzle struck the cyclist, killing him. The force behind the hose was so strong, it yanked the rear wheel off the bicycle.
|1 Numerous Hose Alert clamps can accommodate every hose load and every hosebed on the fire apparatus. Each clamp is tethered to the apparatus with a thin steel cable. Each clamp has a glow-in-the dark strip for easy visibility at night. (Photos by author unless otherwise noted.)|
In 2002, Tualatin Valley (OR) Fire and Rescue accidentally dropped hose off one of its apparatus, which was thought to be the cause of a motor vehicle accident that killed a 41-year-old man from St. Helens. On October 22, 2013, a Troy, Michigan, fire truck accidentally dumped a hose load on the freeway that damaged 12 vehicles that ran over the deployed hose. On December 24, 2013, a fire truck accidentally deployed hose, damaging several vehicles in the northbound lanes of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. In February 2014, a Vancouver (WA) fire apparatus dumped 800 feet of large-diameter hose (LDH) on the Glen Jackson Bridge, causing a two-car accident.
It is hard to keep up with all the national emergency and nonemergency fire service news, and I must tell you, these stories got past me. I was shocked to hear about them – not so much about the accidental hose deployments; I’m sure most firefighters are aware that this happens. It’s not as rare as you think – we’re bound to experience it or hear about it within our department once or twice throughout our careers. It’s usually a professional embarrassment for the driver and the crew, so unless there’s an incident, everyone inside the “cone of silence” is sworn to secrecy. No crew wants to be the butt of the joke or departmentwide ribbing for laying out the entire LDH inventory on the highway. However, with cell phones everywhere, it probably is impossible to cover this event up without some civilian recording it and posting it on social media. What shocked me were the civilian injuries and deaths from getting hit with a nozzle and hose. I’m still shaking my head, and there are even more examples of incidents where fire hose accidentally deployed from a moving fire apparatus – just check the Internet.
|2 The control display screen easily mounts in the cab for easy viewing by the driver. It requires a single 12-volt hot wire for a power source and remains on at all times, preventing a startup sequence every time the rig is started. (Photo by Dave Breiner.)|
It’s incredible that with the associated fatalities, injuries, motor vehicle accidents, and property damage caused by the accidental deployment of fire hose from a responding or moving fire apparatus, the fire service hasn’t launched a major national campaign. Maybe it has, but I wasn’t aware of it.
David Durstine wrote an article for Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment in May 2013 titled, “How Do You Secure Your Hose?” He wrote about his engine from Ohio responding to a vehicle fire when a gust of wind caught a section of four-inch LDH. The company laid out the entire hosebed – 1,000 feet of hose – going 55 mph. Another article worth reading is “Once Around” (www.fireengineering.com) by Loren Charlston and Warren Merrit. Their story leads with five Washington State firefighters on a motorcycle road trip who almost got taken out when they suddenly rode up on a rolled section of 2½-inch fire hose in the middle of the highway.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus (2003 ed.), added an amendment that became effective in 2008. Section 15.10.7 now reads: “Any hose storage area shall be equipped with a positive means to prevent unintentional deployment of the hose from the top, sides, front, and rear of the hose storage area while the apparatus is underway in normal operations.
“Many fire departments have experienced fire hose inadvertently coming off the fire apparatus while traveling to and from incidents. Several incidents have resulted in personal injury and damage to property. At least one death is directly attributed to an unintentional deployment of fire hose during a response. It is imperative the fire apparatus manufacturer provide and the fire department use a means to assure this does not occur. Fire departments and manufacturers have developed various methods of preventing inadvertent deployment of fire hose, including fully enclosed hosebed covers, buckled straps, hook-and-loop fabric covers, webbing, mesh, wind deflectors, and other material restraints or a combination of restraints.”
|3 The Hose Alert clamp resembles a giant red clothespin and attaches to the top flake of any hose load. It is powered by a 10-year lithium ion battery. When the clamp is open, the circuit contacts are open, and it sends a green light signal to the control unit that the hose is secure.|
The problem with this wording is that it still gives fire departments a lot of leeway to interpret what works best for their operations, and the proper function of the restraint system depends on firefighters actually securing it as designed. Procedures, actions, and safety devices that firefighters feel delay or hinder their ability to quickly respond tend to get ignored. Just look at seat belts or stopping for red lights at an intersection – if we can’t get 100 percent compliance with firefighters wearing seat belts, should we expect the fire hose to be secured 100 percent of the time?
Another problem is this wording doesn’t take into account that in many of these accidental deployments, the driver and the crew were not aware that any hose had fallen off the rig. The sirens, air horns, and roar of the diesel engines are overwhelming stimuli, and it’s almost impossible to feel when equipment has fallen off the rig. The driver is busy watching the road, the officer is looking at the dispatch information on the mobile data computer, and the firefighters are securing their personal protective equipment and SCBA. Though these restraint systems may hold the hose loads in place, if the hose does fall out, even partially, none of these systems alert the driver in the cab that a section of hose fell off – until now.
One of the criteria I use when covering the exhibits at FDIC International is to look for new tools and equipment that stop me in my tracks. Vendor booths that have lots of movement and noise will draw a curious crowd. I saw Dave Breiner, an apparatus operator and firefighter/paramedic with the East Hartford (CT) Fire Department, enthusiastically talking about his new product that looked like a gigantic red clothespin. It was clamped to a section of 1¾-inch hose, and when he pulled the giant red clothespin away from the hose, it would “snap” shut and an alarm would sound. I had never seen one of those things before so I decided to join the crowd to see what all the commotion was about.
I asked Breiner to tell me all about his big red clothespin, and he started by asking, “Have you ever been driving down the road with the rig and have all the hose accidentally deploy, dumping the entire hosebed on the road before anyone noticed?” I immediately started to laugh, as did he. I thought to myself, “How did he know?” Yes, it happened to me too. He continued, “It actually happens a lot, but no one is willing to admit it.”
|4 Once the hose pulls away from the Hose Alert clamp, either accidentally or intentionally, the clamp will snap shut, allowing the contacts to touch. The closed circuit sends a message to the control unit that a fire hose has been deployed.|
The giant red clothespin is called Hose Alert, and it was invented by Breiner after he dumped Engine 1’s entire LDH bed. They were backing the engine into the station when a kid came riding up on his bicycle, saying, “Hey fireman!” Breiner yelled at the crew, “Hey guys! Get back on the rig! We gotta go!” After turning the corner, he could see 1,000 feet of five-inch LDH laying all the way down the street. Since it was also 10°F, they reluctantly called the truck company to help load hose. After buying two gallons of ice cream for the engine and truck crews and being the recipient of endless ribbing for days, Breiner started thinking that there had to be a way to alert the driver when hose is accidentally deployed, much like a buzzer sounds in the cab when a compartment door becomes ajar or flies open. In fact, many apparatus also have a warning light in the cab in addition to an audible alarm so when a compartment door is opened, the driver can immediately stop the rig.
Hose Alert debuted at FDIC International 2016. It is a simple concept to alert the driver when any hose is detached or deployed from the engine, either intentionally or unintentionally. The red clothespin is actually a spring-loaded, hose-gripping unit that clamps to the top flake in the hosebed or hose slot. The Hose Alert clamp is tethered and anchored to the apparatus with a thin, nonobtrusive steel cable, which doesn’t interfere or get caught when pulling off hose. When the hose is deployed or removed for any reason, the gripping unit is pulled away from the hose, and the contact sensors connect, which sends an electronic signal to the dash unit control screen inside the cab. The alarm immediately sounds, notifying the driver that a hose load has accidentally deployed. The driver can stop in a timely and safe manner before hundreds of feet of hose are laid out in the street.
The hose clamp is made of rugged military-grade plastic, making it strong, durable, and weatherproof. There is also a reflective phosphorescent (glow-in-the-dark) sticker along the spine for easy visibility at night. The rugged housing protects the circuit components and the lithium ion battery. With the advent of lithium ion technology, this wireless unit has a 10-year battery life (like lithium ion smoke detectors). After about eight years, the lithium ion battery also signals the console, which maintains a low-battery warning beep for more than a month, so you have plenty of notice to change out the battery.
|5 The Hose Alert clamp can accommodate any size fire hose, including LDH, and can attach to any hose load configuration, like a flat load, a stack load, or an accordion load. The clamps are married or paired to the specific control unit assigned to the apparatus, so there are no cross signal activations when fire apparatus are parked closely together at a fire scene. (Photo by Dave Breiner.)|
The display screen is about 3 × 6 inches (the size of a large smartphone) and takes up very little room in the cab. The display and settings screen allows for various custom preferences and can accommodate more than 20 separate clamps – more than enough for any apparatus. When all the clamps are properly connected, a green screen will display “All Hose Secured,” letting the driver know it’s safe to proceed. When a hose is intentionally pulled off or accidentally falls off, the clamp snaps shut, allowing the contacts to touch. The screen will turn red and display the specific hose slot that was deployed. If the hose load is intentionally pulled, the driver can silence the display unit with a push of a button. The driver can also place a wedge to spread the hose clamp apart to clear the warning. Each Hose Alert clamp on the apparatus is married or paired to the display controller for that specific apparatus, so it isn’t affected by other Hose Alert systems on apparatus within the fleet. For example, if Engine 1 and Engine 2 are parked next to each other, Engine 2 will not pick up any signals from hose loads pulled off of Engine 1.
The in-cab display unit is secured by a Ram-mount bracket that swivels or can lay flat. It’s constructed of military-grade GPS pipe. Hose Alert is simple and easy to install on any apparatus that carries hose. All that is needed is one 12-volt hot wire for the power source. Since it’s always on, the unit does not have to boot up every time the apparatus is started. Hose Alert is always in the ready mode.
Hose Alert is affordable, and the entire system is made in the United States. It places equipment accountability on the drivers while reassuring them that all the hose loads are securely in place. It is not a hose restraining system but works in conjunction with any other restraining system currently in use. None of the restraining systems that I’m aware of actually notify the driver that hose was removed from or has fallen off the rig – that’s what makes Hose Alert such a unique, innovative, simple, commonsense solution to a potentially deadly and expensive problem. It doesn’t slow down or interfere with hoselays or pulling a hoseline at a fire, and the fact that it was invented by a firefighter is icing on the cake!
A Change of Mind
My first thought after looking at Hose Alert was that although it was a cool system, I felt it wasn’t necessary. After all, we have too many electronic systems and screens on the apparatus already! As I was about to wish Breiner good luck on his new product, he encouraged me to check out the civilian fatalities, injuries, and property damage caused by fire hose accidentally falling off fire engines, so I did. What a sobering investigation. What I once thought was a funny episode out of firefighter follies became the realization that a loose, uncharged fire hose with a nozzle at the end is a deadly instrument. This black eye for the fire service can be solved today with a combination of hose restraints and Hose Alert. Today’s fire service is driven by risk management and limiting liability. I don’t know – a jury award of $5 million buys a lot of giant red clothespins. You decide.
RAUL A. ANGULO is a captain (ret.) with Ladder Company 6 of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department with 35 years of service. He is an international fire service speaker and author and an editorial advisory board member of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.