Photo courtesy of Turtle Plastics.
By Chris Daly
Several recent incidents in my area have highlighted a need to refresh fire apparatus operators on the dangers of driving over fire hoses. Most state vehicle codes prohibit a civilian from driving over fire hoses—and for good reason. Why then do we feel that our fire department vehicles are any less hazardous?
Anyone with experience in the fire world understands that there are times when an engine company will arrive, drop a supply line, and lay in. Great…I hope that your first-in apparatus is establishing a good water supply. To drive past a hydrant and proceed straight to the front door with only 500 or 750 gallons of water would be fine example of poor tactics. That said, what happens when this supply line gets in the way of the next due apparatus?
First and foremost, drivers should avoid driving over charged or uncharged hoselines at all costs. Driving over an uncharged hoseline can cause the line to get tangled around a wheel or axle, damaging the hose, the hydrant, and the apparatus. Imagine if you tore the hose off the hydrant, damaging the threads and putting the only nearby hydrant out of service at a working fire. Not a good plan. What would happen if you put a brand new aerial piece out of service because you tangled a five-inch line in the axle and damaged the apparatus? Again, not a good plan. A dragging hoseline can cause serious damage to anything in the vicinity, such as street signs, parked cars, and the like. In some circumstances, dragging a hoseline can seriously injure anyone in the vicinity, including firefighters and civilians.
Driving over a charged hoseline could cause the hose to burst, which will destroy your water supply to those members actively fighting the fire. The pressure that a multiton vehicle will place on a charged hoseline is tremendous. When pressure is applied to a hoseline that is resting on an asphalt road or other sharp surface (such as a curb), it may cause the hose to slice or rupture. Use a hose ramp of find another way around. A burst hoseline can become a dangerous missile that will seriously injure anyone in the vicinity.
As with other firefighting skills, driving skills must be drilled on regularly. Teaching drivers to effectively maneuver their rigs so they can avoid hose laid in the street must be a key part of any driver training program. Low-speed maneuvering in tight quarters can be easily trained on at the firehouse or a nearby parking lot. Teaching drivers how to drive around a hoseline in the first place is the ideal solution to the problem. Another solution is having someone jump off the next due piece and help the hydrant person move the supply line to the side of the road before it is charged. Taking a deep breath and a few extra seconds in the beginning of the firefight can save a great deal of headaches in the long-run.
That said, there will be times when driving over a hoseline is absolutely necessary. While most manufacturers strongly discourage driving over a hoseline under any circumstances1, there are a few suggestions that I have found. If a hoseline must be driven over, attempt to drive over it when the line is charged. More damage is likely to occur when driving over an uncharged hose line than a charged hoseline.2 Common sense would also dictate that if the hose is not charged, it would be much easier to have someone jump out and move it out of the way. When absolutely necessary, hoselines should only be driven over when there is sufficient ground clearance under the apparatus. Avoid couplings, and cross the hose at no less than 45 degrees to help prevent the hose from becoming tangled between the rear wheels.3 Drive over the hoseline slowly and do not apply the brakes or turn the wheels. Turning the steering wheel or applying the brakes while there is hose under the tires will significantly increase the chance of damaging both charged and uncharged hoselines.
Driving over a fire hose is something that we must avoid at all costs. By slowing things down, taking a deep breath, and planning ahead, we can avoid this problem all together. Planning how we are going to lay a line or having someone take a few seconds to help move the line out of the street (a great job for all the cops standing around), will prevent the need to drive over a hose in the first place. In the rare event that a hoseline must be driven over, ensure that it is done properly and safely. Driver training and a cool, professional attitude behind the wheel will help prevent hose related incidents in the future.
1Fire Hose Care “Dos & Don’ts”. North American Fire Hose Corporation. http://www.nafhc.com/dos-donts
2Couvillon, Arthur R. Fire Captain Written Exam Study Guide.
3Gustin, Bill. Fire Engineering, “Working with Large-Diameter Fire Hose Part 1”. January 1, 2000
CHRIS DALY is a 25-year veteran of the fire service and a full-time police officer who specializes in the reconstruction of serious vehicle crashes and emergency vehicle crashes. He developed the “Drive to Survive” training program (www.drivetosurvive.org) which has been presented to more than 14,000 emergency responders across the country and lectures nationally on the prevention of emergency vehicle crashes. Daly has a master’s degree in safety from Johns Hopkins University, is a contributor to Fire Engineering and Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment magazines and has presented at FDIC for the past 10 years.