I posted an article on FireApparatus.com recently about a fire department in a rural area of the South having trouble keeping its rigs up and running.
To respond, firefighters would first have to jump start one of the rigs and use the now running fire apparatus to jump start another truck. Then, the firefighters could get on the road. In some cases, this process could take up to 10 minutes. The two vehicles are housed in a station. This station is a shed-like structure. There are two bays. There are no meeting rooms, no radio room, and no personal protective equipment (PPE) cleaning area—just the two trucks purchased from other departments. An ambulance sits outside the structure, as well as a brush truck. This is a reality for many rural fire departments across the country. The brightness of LED warning lights on fire apparatus? Nothing could probably be further from firefighters’ minds at these departments as they struggle to stay in operation.
I’ve read with interest Robert Tutterow’s recent columns on the revisions to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1851, Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting (2020 ed.). As usual, the committees developing NFPA standards have worked hard to generate standards that keep firefighter safety at the forefront. The NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, committee is tackling various issues that have arisen since the last revision, none the least of which is the aforementioned debate over the brightness of warning lights. But, what are we doing as a fire service to assist our rural fire departments that probably shudder when they hear the term “compliance”? Considering PPE, how many rural fire departments can afford to equip their members with PPE that meets the current standard?
The words “and beyond” are in this month’s title. As with anything, the fire service has extremes. There are departments that have tremendous funding and can afford to have all new apparatus and gear and equipment for their firefighters, and there are departments that struggle to stay in operation with outdated apparatus and safety equipment. But, there is a huge group in the middle. This group has the funds to purchase new trucks and gear but likely cannot afford two sets of gear for every member or the extractors and dryers to clean the gear or, if they can’t afford the special equipment, don’t have the funds to send the gear out to be cleaned. These are the departments that can afford that new truck but won’t be able to again for 20 to 25 years. These are the fire companies that struggle to keep their hose and appliances tested on an annual basis—and then may have trouble replacing lengths of hose that fail. These organizations move equipment from old truck to new truck. This group scratches its head and says, “How can I continue to meet these standards?” while at another extreme, the group generally says, “NFP what?”
I am in no way disparaging NFPA standards or the work that the various committees put into developing them. However, the reality is that a great number of fire departments across the country do not have the financial means to meet them. I always hear the argument that these standards are guidelines, but they are not required. If the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) decides to meet the standards, then they are required. Even if the AHJ doesn’t have that mandate, if a hoseline bursts at a fire and a firefighter at the nozzle gets hurt as a result, the question will be asked, “When was the last time that length of hose was tested according to NFPA 1962, Standard for the Care, Use, Inspection, Service Testing, and Replacement of Fire Hose, Couplings, Nozzles, and Fire HoseAppliances?
The question must be asked, “Have today’s standards exceeded fire departments’ financial abilities to meet them?” At one time, the answer to that question was probably no. But today, has the scale tipped the other way?