Cantankerous Wisdom: Trays, NFPA 1900, and Engine 2

What can reduce the usable width, depth, and height of the equipment compartment and might not really be necessary?

By Bill Adams

What can reduce the usable width, depth, and height of equipment compartments; that costs from $500 to more than $1,000; and might not really be necessary? A slide-out tray mounted on a compartment floor.

Why would an apparatus purchasing committee specify a slide-out tray on the floor of every compartment without knowing exactly what’s going on it? It could be laziness or “the way it’s always been done.” The intent is not to “squeeze pennies” or make firefighters’ lives harder. When specifying a new rig, it might be advisable to step back and look at the big picture.

Photo 1 by Allan Smith shows a slide-out tray holding rolled hose. It is neat and orderly, but it could be expensive to modify later.

Photo 1

Photo 2 shows a compartment without a tray. The equipment on the floor appears accessible and easy to reach. Note: I’d recommend a retaining strap to keep the equipment from banging into the door.

Photo 2

Which layout can easily allow relocating or adding different size equipment in the future?  There’s always that possibility.

NFPA 1900

COVID-19 is still keeping the “raisin squad” out of firehouses, so we’re relying on social media and fading memories to find things to pontificate about. An easy target is the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA’s) proposed NFPA 1900, Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Vehicles, Automotive Fire Apparatus, Wildland Fire Apparatus, and Automotive Ambulances.

On NFPA 1900, the NFPA’s Web site says, “This standard defines the minimum requirements for the design, performance, acceptance criteria, and testing of new automotive fire apparatus and trailers, wildland apparatus, aircraft rescue and firefighting apparatus, and automotive and remounted ambulances.”

The NFPA is combining existing Standards 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus; 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus; 414, Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Fire-Fighting Vehicles; and 1917, Standard for Automotive Ambulances, into a single document. They average more than 130 pages each—more than 500 in total. Admittedly, there’s verbiage that overlaps between them such as definitions and repetitive data, so it’s reasonable to think they’ll consolidate as much as possible. However, the new standard could be 400 pages long; probably more than one inch thick. Years ago, NFPA standards were called “pamphlets” and could fit in your back pocket.

Is the new NFPA 1900 going to be costly? The standards being combined cost $92.50, $76.00 and two at $65.50 each (almost $300 total), an average of $75.00 each. Will the NFPA charge $75.00 or $300.00 for the new standard, or something in between? Look at the cost per page. The four existing standards cost an average of .65 a page. A 400-page document conceivably could cost $260.00—a hefty sum.

The bottom line is, it’ll cost whatever the NFPA deems it to be. If we don’t like it, tough luck, because there is no other national consensus-based standard out there for fire trucks. Years ago, some vendors meeting with purchasing committees would pass out copies of the applicable standard to each committee member, something not likely to happen in the future.

The NFPA has unquestionably done more good than bad regarding apparatus safety and design. However, the process itself as well as the motivation and reasoning for “making the requirements” should be debated at least and questioned at most. A topic for another day is exploring ways to make the standard “reader friendly” for firefighters riding the tailboard or the side running boards (sorry…I meant riding in the crew cab).

Engine 2

In 1965, I “bunked” at Ithaca, New York’s, central station. Ithaca ran volunteers out of five stations with career drivers and bunkers, usually college students from Cornell and Ithaca College. Back then, their Engine 2, a 1942 American La France (photo 3) that pumped 500 gallons per minute, was a real pumper. It had no doors, no roof, a curb-side pump panel, wood ladders,  a wood pike pole, a single spotlight on the driver’s windshield post, a searchlight on the right cowl, and a combination siren/red light on the hood. I can’t remember what was on the curb side, but the road-side running board carried a blank steamer cap, a swiveling hydrant adaptor, a set of 2½-inch double male and female adaptors, a 2½-gallon extinguisher, and a 2½-inch playpipe. It didn’t need much more than that! The small box ahead of the rear wheels may have been for tools or the battery.

Photo 3

Interestingly, the steamer sported a butterfly valve with a crank handle and swiveling adaptor to accommodate a 2½-inch supply line. That was innovative back when pumpers rarely made forward lays. They usually sat on a plug making a big-fire hook-up.

Fire departments today equipped with large diameter hose seldom make use of valved siameses and gate valves on those capped off steamers seen on many new deliveries. Steamer ports can do double duty rather than just carrying a cap that’s rarely removed for drafting or the annual pump test. Or, you can spend big bucks for an extra 2½-inch gated inlet on each side that is seldom, if ever, used.

Ever Wonder Why?

Following are some question that can keep gnawing at you as they do me:

  • If electronic sirens are good enough for police cars and ambulances, why does the fire service insist on mechanical sirens?
  • Why isn’t one air horn good enough for a fire truck?
  • How come fire departments keep buying large-capacity generators when 99 percent of their scene lighting is 12-volt light emitting diodes, and the trend is also for battery-powered hydraulic rescue tools and smoke ejectors?
  • Why aren’t folding hooks provided on each end of roof ladders?
  • Why do firefighters “think” their warning lights are telling motorists what to do? (A column isn’t complete without talk of red lights.)

To paraphrase an answer given by a friend who’s obviously tired of my ranting and raving:

 “You old fool—they’re called “warning lights” for a reason. They only let motorists know a vehicle is a fire truck. They don’t communicate directions. Red lights don’t say if the rig is moving or has stopped. Do you really think some schmuck driving a car knows the fire truck is telling him to stop, move to the left or to the right, or just to get the hell out of the way?”

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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