Way back in the day, at least it feels that way sometimes, the pumpers my fire company was using (the 1981 American LaFrances I’ve written about before) only had two “pack seats.”
When I joined the fire company, we had already stopped riding on the back step, but we still stood in front of the jump seats. Honestly, it was always a fun ride standing up. It was the closest I ever got to riding the back step. Sure, there were times it wasn’t so great. Standing 6 feet 4 inches meant I was taller than the roof of the cab, and on cold winter nights en route to a call tears would stream from my eyes from the cold air hitting them. And, of course, there was being blinded in the middle of the night by the rotating lights. Those were the days. And although I enjoyed those days, I would never suggest we go back to standing up anywhere on a rig while it’s en route to or from an incident.
So, with only two pack seats but four firefighters, we stowed two self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in one compartment over the rear wheel well on the driver’s side of the truck. In those days, on an automatic fire alarm call or the like, the motto was “rookie sits.” But, if it was a job, the rookie was getting his SCBA from the back of the truck. I hated it. You just want to be in the thick of it as quickly as possible—especially when you’re new. But, times change. The next rigs we bought had plenty of pack seats, and we had plenty of people ready to complete all the tasks at hand as soon as they stepped off the trucks.
I can remember those days. And, firefighters older than me remember the days when SCBA were stowed in cases in a compartment on the truck. To me, it’s a “back in the day” anecdote, but many do not receive the idea of moving the SCBA out of the cab well. But, it’s time to consider it.
Captain Beth Gallup, Puget Sound (WA) Regional Fire Authority, presented a Webcast last year on the “Healthy In/Healthy Out” program. There is a lot to this program, and for a department just looking to get healthier, it could seem daunting when you look at all the things departments could do. I asked Gallup about that, and her response was that you don’t have do everything, but departments should do something.
The Clean Cab Concept addresses many components of a rig. But, its major focus is to reduce the chances of contamination in the cab. Many parts of it are easier to implement on rigs under construction or just being spec’d than on existing fire apparatus. As with anything, when a department makes a choice about one area of a fire apparatus, for example wheelbase, a sacrifice usually occurs somewhere else on the rig. There is always a give and take. But even if you can’t take all the SCBA out of the cab, the simple act of not putting them back in after a fire and contaminating the cab goes a long way toward exposure reduction. Even allowing them to off gas outside the truck will go a long way if there is no way to transport them back to the station outside the cab. The same can be said for turnout gear. Bag it up or, at the very least, let it off gas for a while.
Going further with the SCBA, if you can’t get away with not putting them in the cab at some point, make sure they are cleaned well when you get back to the station before putting them back in service on the truck. At least one manufacturer has designed an SCBA harness with removable soft goods that can be cleaned. Having an extra set of soft goods available to get the SCBA back in service is not that different from having a spare hood ready to go or a second set of turnout gear.
In a recent survey that accompanied the January 2018 digital edition, 64 percent of respondents answered that they would rather carry their SCBA inside the cab vs. a compartment. Will that change moving forward? It might. The key right now is awareness that contaminants can get into the cab in a variety of ways, and the idea is to reduce the chances of cab contamination, thereby reducing the chance of firefighter exposure to contaminants likely containing carcinogens. Keeping it outside is not the end of the world. It’s been done, but believe me I understand why many firefighters want to keep them in the cab. The question is what steps these firefighters will take to ensure their SCBA does not contribute to fire apparatus cab contamination.