SOC Specialized

Blocking Rigs

Issue 2 and Volume 24.

Chris Mc Loone

“Fire Engine Crashes En Route to Fire,” “Fire Apparatus Overturns,” “Man Hospitalized After Accident with Fire Apparatus,” “Driver Injured in Fire Apparatus Accident”—these are just a few of the headlines we’ve run at since the start of 2019.

Chris Mc Loone

Some involve civilian drivers hitting parked fire apparatus; some involve the apparatus hitting something else. So, we’ve got some work to do to improve these things during 2019. Naturally, accidents happen. No one is arguing that. However, preventable accidents during a response, to me, are unacceptable if they are preventable by the crew on the rig.

Fire apparatus being hit when they are properly staged to block traffic is a different problem and one whose solution has evaded the fire service. Departments are being proactive. Some stage multiple units. Some have started repurposing retired rigs to serve as blockers only. It can’t possibly be that drivers cannot see us on the road—at least not newer rigs with LED lighting packages. We responded to a recent job where two police vehicles blocked traffic, yet people still drove through. Maybe the problem is just that no one sees putting out a building fire safely or extricating a driver or passenger safely as more important than finding a different route to buy a gallon of milk.

Chris Daly continues his series of articles this month covering fire apparatus rollovers. By touching on topics not often covered during an emergency vehicle operation course, the article series provides information for apparatus operators to keep in the back of their minds as they respond to hopefully reduce the number of rollovers throughout the year.

But, we also have the problem of firefighters and fire apparatus being struck at accident scenes. The instances do not seem to be going down. Distracted driving, driving under the influence, and cars with increased soundproofing are just a few of the problems. The solution has remained elusive. And, people don’t only ignore fire apparatus. I walk my kids up the street every morning to their bus stop. At least every other day, the bus driver has to honk the bus’s horn at a car that doesn’t stop when its red lights are on.

So, what is the solution on the fire truck side? I like the idea of taking old rigs that are being retired and repurposing them as blocking trucks, provided they are still reliable enough to start up when needed. Depending on their age, I do hope that they will be hooked up to diesel exhaust extraction systems of some sort, especially if they are near turnout gear. Even late 1990s rigs pipes can belch some dark diesel exhaust.

What is interesting to me, though, is that there really aren’t any standards that cover when a vehicle is repurposed. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, covers new trucks. NFPA 1912, Standard for Apparatus Refurbishing, covers fire apparatus that still serve their original purpose but have been refurbished to continue as reserve pieces or many times first-out rigs. But, there isn’t anything about what you do when you are repurposing a rig. It happens all the time, but there isn’t a standard to follow to ensure the repurposed fire truck is safe. I am not suggesting that we start a whole new standard for repurposed fire trucks. But, should we be using the pertinent parts of NFPA 1912 to ensure the rig is safe even if not being used for its original purpose? A repurposed pumper responding as a blocker will respond with the first-due unit often, and to the public it’s a fire truck. On the back end of the municipality, is it still a fire truck, or do the same rules apply to ensure the safety of public works vehicles?

The bottom line is that in my view, repurposing an old rig isn’t a bad idea at all. Evaluate the truck. If it has been a mechanical nightmare its entire life, is it worth the time, effort, and money to repurpose it? If it’s belching thick, black exhaust and the station where it will be housed doesn’t have any way to evacuate it, is it worth repurposing that particular vehicle? Just a few things to think about as we continue to work toward a solution for collisions with parked fire apparatus.