Big Rigs: Commercial vs. Recreational
Coming off of a recent Heavy/Big Rig Rescue program that we did in rural Minnesota, I’m reminded of a couple of student questions that brought me to this topic. How do we really define “Big Rig”? Is it by gross vehicle weight, length, or by the size and weight of the load?
Typically, when we think of big rigs, we think of heavy, 18- (or more) wheeled vehicles or large over-the-road commercial trucks. We’ve been taught to use such identifiers as hazmat placards and driver’s manifests that can let us know what these commercial trucks are carrying. These identifiers can be a great help with what the truck might be carrying, and perhaps a tip or two into the hazardous nature of the cargo.
What this information doesn’t always spell out in a way that is always easy to access and understand is what the actual volume and weight of the cargo is at any given time. We used to think that a 40-foot trailer constituted a big rig. Now, 53-foot trailers are common, and depending upon what state you live in, big rigs can haul “triples” (three trailers). We also know that these “rigs” are typically occupied by a single driver, or a driver and a co-driver.
Some may ask “so what?”, but it is important for several reasons. For example, one of the things that I see lacking most often when I visit rural departments around the country is stabilization struts rated to handle the weight of a big rig, or a school bus, or even heavy farm equipment. Regardless of preference of strut manufacturer (or if you make your own struts), it is imperative that you know and understand what your struts are weight-rated for.
Using light weight-rated car struts for a loaded school bus accident or a heavy commercial vehicle is nothing more than another accident waiting to happen—and a GIGANTIC liability to your department and its members. Don’t think for a minute that I’m knocking any department’s struts. We just need to use the right tool for the right job. We’ll talk more about struts in a future installment.
Today, we see huge recreational “big rigs” going down the highway through our rural communities. Forty-eight-foot (three quarters of a million dollar +) motor coaches towing large “kitchen” trailers is quite common. In a number of states (including my own) we see pickup trucks with 5th wheel trailers of varying sizes that have boats or other trailers hooked to the fifth wheel trailer. Aren’t these effectively “triples”?
Huge trailers known as “toy haulers” are usually luxurious self-contained recreational vehicle trailers with built-in garages for race cars, motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs, or any other kind of motorized toy that you could fit. But unlike commercial big rigs that have hazmat placards and driver manifests onboard, what do we know about these recreational big rigs? What are they carrying? How many people are onboard? What kind of hazmat may be inside the trailer or the garage of the trailer (in addition to the 50-gallon onboard trailer fuel tank that could be hauling anything from regular gas to racing gas)? How much do these types of rigs weigh? How do I know if my existing struts and other equipment can handle its weight, or what might be burning or exploding if we find them on fire? Do we prepare (and train) for the worst, and hope for the best, or do we just do what we’ve always done and hope for the best?
I honestly believe that we need to take a look at what we have as far as resources and give a good, hard look at what we might need for resources that we don’t have. These recreational big rigs are every bit as, if not more, dangerous than 90% of the commercial big rigs on the road today. Not only that, but seriously think about the fact that both of these types of rigs now share our rural roads and highways at the same time.
Both of these types of vehicles present a host of hazardous-material concerns. Both also present a series of Class B flowing fuel fire concerns. Lithium Ion batteries, on roof solar arrays, and myriad other “new” challenges await us with these rigs.
From the weight rating of our struts and other stabilization equipment—to the effectiveness of our extrication tools, and our firefighting methods, tactics, and extinguishment choices—we should really ask ourselves…are we ready?