By Paul Bostrom
In 2006, members of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) approached the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) to discuss the need for seat and seat belt fit and comfort improvement within fire apparatus.
FAMA responded immediately by organizing a measurement survey of more than 800 firefighters to determine their average size, weight, and shape. This survey has now been followed up with a new study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). One common thread in both studies is that firefighters have grown in size, and the bulk of their gear has grown as well.
40 Pounds in a 10-Pound Bag
Although firefighters have grown, the apparatus cab has stayed the same. Commercial cab size is dictated by the high-volume needs of the trucking industry and is restricted in width by highway regulations and in height by bridge clearance. In addition, changes in engine emission regulations by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have caused engine tunnels to grow, reducing the space left for cab occupants.
Picking Your Apparatus
As airline travelers know all too well, a human body is able to fit in a compact seating space. Whether an individual in the seat is comfortable in that space is another question. If the majority of the firefighters in your department are average size and the required amount of gear is moderate, you may not need to consider seating as a primary factor when selecting apparatus. If firefighter sizes vary in your department or you require personnel to carry more gear as part of or attached to their turnout gear, you may want to think carefully about cab configurations.
Most custom cabs will have a tight fit for the driver and officer because of the space occupied by the engine and cooling package. This condition is caused by the need to get cooling air to the radiator. If this situation is unacceptable, you will have to consider a custom cab that moves the engine rearward and uses a less conventional means to cool it. Other options to consider for increased driver and officer space include raising the seat riser and notching the doghouse in your custom cab. The crew area of a custom cab has much more room to work with. If seating comfort is a priority, consider three-across seating rather than the more traditional four-across configuration.
Although conventional commercial cabs are not encumbered with a large engine tunnel, they are narrower than a custom cab. This means that although the driver may have a bit more hip room, rear occupants might have less room if you are trying to fit more than two in the crew cab.
New Apparatus: Picking Your Seat
Once you have a cab configuration identified, you can turn to the seats themselves.
Fire apparatus seating has become more complex as suppliers strive to provide enhanced comfort, safety, and accessibility and accommodate the increase in equipment worn in transit by today’s firefighters. Fire departments want driver and officer seat adjustability, including fore and aft, height, back recline, and tilt, as well as crew seats with space-saving flip-up cushions.
Driver seats that adjust to fit all size occupants provide added flexibility, and shock-absorbing air suspension seats enhance passenger comfort. Another important industry safety trend is seat-mounted airbag integration. Seats are available with an air bag mounted inside and a deployment corridor incorporated next to the seat for reliable air bag positioning relative to the occupant. Of course, durability of materials is important, given the wear and tear the seats are subject to.
When it comes to seat belts, it is desirable to have an integral three-point seat belt system mounted within the seat to provide easy access to the seat belt and provide sufficient usable belt length.
Finally, in-cab storage is critical. Self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) brackets that automatically lock when an SCBA is pushed in are newer features that ensure safe SCBA storage. A release handle built into the front of the seat cushion makes this an easy-to-use option when seconds matter.
Help for In-Service Apparatus
For existing seating in apparatus, improvements in seat belt systems and incorporation of mechanical SCBA brackets are two areas that can easily be appraised in the field and upgraded to optimize functionality. First, we all know wearing a seat belt in a passenger car is essential for occupant safety. It’s no different when riding in a heavy truck such as a fire apparatus. Seat belt use should be incorporated into the department’s standard operating procedures. Check seat belts for sufficient usable belt length, nicks or wear, and sufficient retraction of the webbing. Consider replacing the seat belt if you notice any of these issues.
Incorporating mechanical SCBA brackets is another way to significantly improve efficiency and operation. Correct storage of SCBA in the cab includes a holding device that clamps the SCBA into the seat and withstands a force during travel of up to 9 Gs. Today you can choose from several self-locking mechanical brackets that eliminate straps and pull cords.
FAMA has strived to guide improvements in areas such as safety and operating performance within today’s fire apparatus. Analyzing the size of the clothed and unclothed firefighter population has shed light on the future design requirements such as steps, handles, and seating, to name a few. As FAMA and other organizations conduct additional surveys, new solutions will continue to be available, providing the best ideas for continuous improvement in apparatus design.
Paul Bostrom is vice president of sales and marketing at H.O. Bostrom Company. He has been involved with seating and occupant safety for the global fire market for more than 20 years. He currently serves on FAMA’s chassis and aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) subcommittees and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety committees. He has a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, a masters degree in business administration, and a professional engineer’s license.