By Chris Daly
On September 19, 2016, the West Chester (PA) Fire Department, in conjunction with the Chester County (PA) Crash Reconstruction Team, hosted a unique training opportunity for firefighters and police officers in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, region.
|1 Union Fire Company, Oxford, Pennsylvania, Engine 21-2 being weighed using portable scales. (Photos by author.)|
Members from both sides of the aisle participated in a major skid test demonstration that provided invaluable information for the firefighters and police officers in attendance.
In May 2016, I was contacted by the captain of the Good Will Fire Company, West Chester, Pennsylvania, who explained that the department was expecting delivery of a new water tender. Recognizing the significant safety issues related to operating a water tender, the leadership of the Good Will Fire Company wanted to ensure that their drivers were properly trained when the truck arrived. Fire company officers initially reached out to schedule my “Drive to Survive” training seminar for the members. The seminar was held on a regularly scheduled drill night and was attended by nearly every active member in the company.
|2 Members of the Uwchlan Township (PA) Police Department Truck Enforcement Team weigh Engine 21-2. Sergeant Dale McClure is a past chief of the West Chester (PA) Fire Department.|
Following the classroom session, the fire company officers wished to experience the classroom theories in real life. After some discussion, it was decided that we would attempt to schedule what is believed to be the first combined fire department/crash reconstruction training event of its kind. After agreeing on a date and time, I reached out to police departments in the area to request local crash reconstruction and truck enforcement team assistance. The response was overwhelming.
Once we realized there would be more than enough police officers in attendance, we invited every fire department in the county to attend. Four fire departments wished to participate and gladly sent apparatus and members to assist. There were two major goals for the training session:
- To allow the local police departments and crash teams the unique opportunity to examine fire apparatus under controlled conditions. Each apparatus was equipped with data recording equipment, which allowed the crash reconstruction teams to gather data related to braking efficiency, acceleration rates, and siren effectiveness. These data will prove invaluable for future crash reconstructions involving emergency apparatus.
- To allow firefighters in attendance to learn about proper brake adjustment and the importance of weight limitations, to observe and operate fire apparatus under real-life skid conditions, and to understand the limits of effective siren ranges.
|3 A member of the Exeter Township (PA) truck enforcement team inspects the tires on a fire apparatus prior to testing.|
Prior to fire apparatus arrival, police officers divided into teams. Each team was responsible for gathering such information as vehicle weights, pushrod strokes, tire information, deceleration and acceleration rates, and siren sound pressure levels. As each apparatus arrived, police officers swarmed it and went about the task of gathering the necessary data to ensure successful testing. They mounted data recording equipment to the apparatus for skid tests, and once the vehicles were properly documented, fire company representatives drove to a nearby test site.
Once the apparatus arrived at the test site, they went through several tests. Each truck skidded to a stop three times and accelerated three times, all while being monitored by sophisticated data recording equipment. After each truck skidded to a stop, crash reconstruction experts downloaded the vehicle’s “black box” information to validate the data recorded by this equipment while also demonstrating to the firefighters how the black boxes work.
|4 Accelerometers mounted in the cab of West Whiteland (PA) Fire Company Engine 6-1. These devices measure the braking and acceleration performance of the fire apparatus for use in future studies.|
A firefighter operated each apparatus during the braking and acceleration tests. Most fire apparatus operators do not receive training on how to properly “panic brake” a fire apparatus. As a result, many apparatus operators “freeze up” or panic when it comes time to rapidly stop the vehicle in an attempt to avoid a collision. The apparatus operators who participated in this training session had the unique opportunity of skidding a fire apparatus to a complete stop.
The team recorded the data gathered during testing, which will be used for future studies that will examine fire apparatus braking and acceleration abilities. These studies will help to better train fire apparatus operators on the performance of their vehicles while also providing crash reconstruction teams with invaluable data that can be used in the event of future fire apparatus crashes.
|5 West Whiteland Engine 6-1 during a skid test.|
Over the next several months, several articles will report on the data gathered during this testing. While each article will go into detail on individual topics, there were several key points gleaned during the tests:
- Two of the 10 fire apparatus that participated in this study had to be placed out of service because the air brakes were out of adjustment. It is imperative for every fire department to ensure that apparatus brakes are examined by a certified mechanic on a regular basis. At a minimum, develop a working relationship with your local police department and truck enforcement teams. These teams are specially trained to examine braking systems and look for problems. I’m sure they would be glad to help keep your fire department’s apparatus in safe working condition.
- Remember that fire departments are required to have their vehicles weighed every year, as stated in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus. While this may seem difficult for some departments, don’t hesitate to ask your local police department if it has portable scales. Even if your local police department doesn’t have scales, I’m sure it knows where to find them. Allowing a police department to weigh your apparatus each year will keep your department in compliance with NFPA 1911. In addition, it will provide the police officers with a chance to receive valuable experience weighing trucks in a controlled and nonconfrontational environment.
- Don’t forget that “Big Brother” is always watching. Even if your apparatus is older and not equipped with an NFPA-required event data recorder, most apparatus will record data in the engine control module. Remember that this is not a bad thing. As long as you are driving in a responsible manner and driving with due regard, the data saved in the black box will help vindicate you in the event of a serious crash. That said, remember that if you are driving in an irresponsible manner, your actions may be recorded and could come back to haunt you in a courtroom
Overall, the cooperative effort between the fire departments and police departments during this joint effort was overwhelming. The data gathered during the training exercise will prove invaluable in future crash reconstructions involving emergency apparatus. More importantly, the data will help prevent additional tragedies by providing important safety points for future fire apparatus driver training programs.
|6 Investigators measure the stopping distance of the apparatus to determine the braking efficiency of the vehicle. Officer Jeff McCloskey, shown in the foreground, is also a firefighter for the Concordville (PA) Fire Protective Association in Concordville.|
Special thanks to the following agencies who participated in this training event: Goodwill Fire Company, West Chester, Pennsylvania; Concordville Fire Protective Association, Union Fire Company, Oxford, Pennsylvania; West Whiteland (PA) Fire Company; West Chester (PA) Police Department; West Goshen (PA) Police Department; West Whiteland (PA) Police Department; Caln Township (PA) Police Department; Northern Berks (PA) Regional Police Department; Spring Township (PA) Police Department; Exeter Township (PA) Police Department; Uwchlan Township (PA) Police Department; Chester County (PA) Department of Emergency Services; Cheltenham (PA) Police Department; and the Pennsylvania State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit.
CHRIS DALY is a 19-year police veteran, currently serving as a patrol supervisor in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He is an accredited crash reconstructionist and a lead investigator for the Chester County (PA) Serious Crash Assistance Team. In addition to his police duties, he has served 26 years as both a career and volunteer firefighter, holding numerous positions including assistant chief. Daly has a master’s degree in environmental health engineering from Johns Hopkins University and is a contributing author to numerous fire service professional publications including Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment. Daly has also developed an emergency vehicle driver training program called “Drive to Survive,” which has been presented to more than 15,000 firefighters and police officers at more than 380 emergency service agencies across the United States.