For Innovation, Watch The Europeans

Chevrons and extensive lighted directional signs
Chevrons and extensive lighted directional signs for traffic control have been in use in Europe for years. Only now are those features catching on in the United States.
touch pad pump panel
A Swiss manufacturer was demonstrating at the Interschutz show a touch pad pump panel with technology that allows the pump panel to be located almost anywhere. Soon, wireless technology may allow the pump operator to be where he wants to be instead of standing on top or next to the apparatus. Also of note is the location of the pump at the rear of the apparatus. The Europeans have been way ahead on that curve as rear-mount pumps are just beginning to catch on here. (Fire Apparatus Photo by Robert Tutterow)
aerial platform
For Europeans, the only aerial that makes sense is a platform as it gives firefighters plenty of room to work, store tools and to rescue people, including those with disabilities and use a wheel chair for mobility. (Fire Apparatus Photo)

Equipment used in the European fire service continues to have a strong influence on the design of equipment used in the American fire service, particularly as it relates to firefighter safety.

It’s interesting how design influence crosses the ocean. Certainly, corporate expansion and corporate partnerships are partially responsible. But there are other factors that come into play.

Ironically, the American fire service is not exactly knocking on the door of the European fire service to “see how they do it.” This is evident at the huge fire equipment show (called Interschutz) held every five years in Germany.

Interschutz is known world-wide as the premier fire equipment display in the world. No show in America approaches the size and scope of the week-long Interschutz.

Conspicuously missing among those who attend the show is the American fire service. Probably no more than a dozen American fire service personnel were in attendance at the last show, held in June 2005.

However, practically all of the major U.S. manufacturers of fire equipment were well represented. There was a USA pavilion just for American manufacturers. Clearly, several of the U.S. manufacturers were promoting their products to the world market. It was also clearly obvious that many of the U.S. manufacturers were there to get ideas for the American market, especially with fire apparatus.

It should be noted that many of the recent and emerging changes in American fire apparatus have been in the mainstream of European apparatus for decades. For starters, the Europeans have always used fully enclosed cabs, and their trucks have never had tailboards.

Imagine their bewilderment at our past propensity to kill firefighters by providing a place for them to stand (unsecured) on the exterior of a cab while responding and returning to incidents. It was a practice we condoned and even celebrated.

Ask a European firefighter about a tailboard firefighter, and you will get the “deer in the headlights” look. Finally, in the late 1980s, the NFPA 1901 Technical Committee caused the change in this country. This was clearly a safety feature that we should have embraced earlier.

Striking Design

Another striking design is the use of roll-up compartment doors. They have always been used in Europe, and their acceptance in the U.S. fire service is now firmly entrenched in most departments. The roll-up door provides a smaller foot print to operate around an apparatus and, in turn, helps keep firefighters out of harm’s way.

In addition, damage to fire apparatus and fire stations has diminished. Ripping the doors off the apparatus while bringing down the front of the station makes for an ugly day.

The “closet organizer” concept for equipment storage also started in Europe. Their ideas of adjustable and slide-out trays are now common on American fire apparatus. We are also doing a much better job of organizing and mounting our loose equipment in much the same way they have been doing.

We have also learned about vertically hinged equipment mounting boards and stackable trays from our European counterparts. An organized compartment maximizes the cubic feet available and helps put mission specific equipment together.

For water flow, the European pumpers have had rear-mount pumps for dozens of years. Today, their acceptance in the American fire service is growing steadily.

The use of large diameter hose and Storz couplings is another European idea that we have accepted with a high degree of success. LDH and the related hardware were used in Europe during World War II, but it was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that it appeared in the U.S. fire service.

What other European influences are, and might soon to be, emerging in the U.S.? Certainly the Europeans seem to be ahead of us as far as scene safety for emergency responders. Most European apparatus have Chevron striping on the rear of their apparatus.

Gaining Acceptance

This is gaining acceptance by the U.S. fire departments which are typically early adaptors to positive change.

The Europeans have made major progress in equipping their apparatus for traffic control. For example, signage, directional signals, lighted/reflective cones, and portable strobe flares are common equipment for them.

European designed cabs are easier for firefighters to enter and egress and equipment accessibility tends to be easier as well. One inherent advantage they have is no need for hose beds. Their water distribution system is designed so that long lays are unnecessary.

Their apparatus tend to be lower to the ground to facilitate easier access. They have been pioneers in developing fold-down platforms and non-slip standing surfaces along their body sides for firefighters to access equipment stored higher in compartments. All these features are now emerging in the U.S. fire service.

The grab rails for cab entrance and egress tend to be mounted inside the cab. This keeps them out of the elements and is particularly easier to grab for firefighter egress from the cab. They also color-code their handrails (usually yellow) so they are readily identifiable.

The Europeans are have been designing and building non-metal bodies for the past few years. The technology for plastic and other composite materials has progressed to the point that they have distinct advantages. They are lighter weight and body damage can be repaired in considerably less time. In addition, the composite bodies absorb impact better. We are just now seeing these type bodies being sold in the U.S.

The Europeans have a fairly simple approach to aerial devices. For the most part they all have platforms. A few areas of the U.S. have adopted this philosophy. Their belief is based on firefighter safety and service delivery.

They believe if a firefighter is going to be positioned in an elevated position (higher than a ground ladder) the firefighter will be operating from a platform.

The platform also provides distinct advantages for service delivery. Two firefighters can work together for rescue and needed tools are more likely to be readily available if they are stored on the platform. The platform has distinct advantages in rescue of mobility-impaired people. The Europeans seem to have a lead in almost anything electronic. Braking systems are a good example. While now standard in Europe, electronic brakes in the U.S. are still a few years away.

At the Interschutz show a truck by a Swiss manufacturer was displayed that had a touch pad pump panel. The technology allows the pump panel to be located anywhere. In fact, with wireless technology, who knows, keeping up with the pump panel might be like keeping up with the remote for a TV. Most of us can envision this technology, but it could still be a few years away in the U.S.

It has been stated that some of us in the fire service get up every morning, put our boots on backwards and march into the past. But, many of us like to get involved in long-range planning, strategic plans, benchmarking, forecasting and overall prediction of the future.

A study of what’s going on “across the pond” is one of our better indicators. U.S. manufacturers pay close attention to their European counterparts. Perhaps the U.S. fire service should look across the pond for equipment benchmarking too.

Editor’s Note: Robert Tutterow, who has nearly 30 years in the fire service, is Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department’s health and safety officer. He is a member of the NFPA’s technical committees on fire apparatus, serving as the chairperson of the group’s safety task force, and structural fire fighting protective clothing and equipment as a member of the correlating committee.

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