Aerials, Apparatus, Pumpers, Rescues

Warning Device Efficacy

Issue 1 and Volume 23.

Editor’s Opinion chris Mc Loone

I have no idea what to write about this month.

I could go with the usual and discuss trends in the market and expectations for 2018 now that we are here.

I thought about the recent news stories involving parked fire apparatus in blocking positions on the road still getting rammed by civilian vehicles and thought I could write about that. But, beyond speculating about what more we could do to make people see our vehicles on the road, there wasn’t a ton to comment on there. It seems like these days the safest maneuver is to park the rig and clear out so you’re nowhere near it when someone not paying attention runs into the back of it or just plows right through an accident scene. That made me think of a Pennsylvania incident that occurred not far from where I live in which a firefighter died from injuries sustained when a tractor trailer lost control as it approached an accident scene, flipped, and slid, hitting several vehicles and an ambulance. It killed one firefighter and critically injured others.

I do not have a highway in my first due, but our rescue truck does respond to a four-lane divided road, and apparatus positioning is always a key factor. I have had the opportunity only a couple of times to respond to an expressway, and both times as we operated at the vehicle in question, an accident occurred on the other side of the divider. Believe me, it’s a real eye-opener to realize just how close these other vehicles are as they get stuck in the “gaper delay,” with one inevitably not paying attention. And, those were the days before everyone was staring at their cell phones while they waited for traffic to clear.

I’m bringing this up because the January issue is one we typically look to for “protecting the firefighter” coverage. We usually hit on personal protective equipment (PPE)—our first line of defense when it comes to fighting a fire. But, there is so much more to protecting the firefighter these days when we think about medical line-of-duty deaths (LODDs). From a health and safety perspective, there’s much being done to protect our firefighters by educating them about proper diets and encouraging and empowering them to exercise; and, of course, cancer awareness has been taken to a whole new level.

But, I’m still seeing many apparatus-­related injuries and sometimes LODDs. No, this isn’t going to be a homily about the officer making sure the driver is operating the apparatus safely or a reminder about apparatus positioning on the highway. What I’d actually like to see as we start 2018 is for fire service organizations to take a close look at our warning devices and lights and make specific recommendations about their effectiveness. The data are available. Numerous organizations have done studies in their locales. So, the data are there; we need to analyze them and put them into some format that everyone can understand. Anecdotally and scientifically, we know that there is an effective distance a siren will be effective. But, many emergency vehicle operations courses have not incorporated these data into their curriculum.

Then, there is lighting. Are we doing more harm than good with the brightness of the lights we put on the trucks? If a driver comes around a bend and is confronted with blinding red and white light, can the driver necessarily be blamed for losing control or not being able to see his way around the truck? Are the number of lights and their flash patterns causing more chaos for drivers trying to navigate a scene? I’m sure I’m not the only apparatus operator who has been asked by another apparatus driver to turn off my rear warning lights when we are staging on a road because I’m blinding him.

Returning to PPE for a moment, there are some in the industry who advocate removing self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) from fire apparatus cabs. Fire departments have done this for one reason or another, but the idea now is to ensure that we are not contaminating the cab with carcinogens by replacing contaminated SCBA there after a call. This will impact fire apparatus design because we have to find a place for them outside the cab. If we are willing to alter our compartmentation to accommodate four to six SCBA, we should be willing to look at the efficacy of our warning devices. It might not be about putting more lights on the rig so it won’t get clobbered. It might be about looking at what we have on it now and adjusting it to ensure we’re not blinding people.