Keeping It Safe: An Apparatus Specification Safety Checklist?


Robert Tutterow
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard on Automotive Fire Apparatus, has a 22-page section titled “Purchasing Specification Form.” It is an excellent guide in developing specifications and communicating those specifications to your apparatus bidders/builder.

If your department is not using the form, you are missing out on a tremendous tool. With ongoing emphasis on firefighter health and safety, particularly with the emergence of the “clean cab concept,” the form can be enhanced to highlight safety and health features. A department can print the form and then highlight issues that are safety- and health-related. It can add notes to be more specific, and it can add additional items not on the form. Note: The current revision of NFPA 1901 was released in 2016 and with the NFPA process for comments, the information is basically five years old.

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There are many safety and health issues that should be highlighted and never overlooked. It is important to know the gross vehicle weight rating and the weight distribution from front to rear and left to right. The turning radius must be known before a bid is awarded. Other truck footprint issues include the angle of departure, the angle of approach, and the crossover angle.


Warning lights are a science unto themselves. Lighting should basically indicate the four corners of the rig and be mounted strategically to maximize the warning they are designed to convey. Currently not in the existing revision, it should be noted that most rigs have lighting intensities that are too bright for night-time conditions. They simply blind other drivers. And, there is scientific evidence that slower flashing lights are better than rapid flashing lights, as they impact the senses of on-scene personnel as well as other motorists. On reflection, I find this is true. I recall the first pumper my volunteer fire department purchased when my dad was a charter member of the department. It was a 1958 Howe mounted on a Chevrolet chassis. The only warning light was mounted on the top center of the cab and integrated with the mechanical siren. The light had a flash rate that slowly ramped up and ramped down. I remember to this day, as a child, how visible it was as I saw it coming down the road a half-mile away. Another warning light consideration is directional arrows to advise motorists of which way they should angle when approaching a road scene incident.


The cab interior has received a lot of attention with the clean cab concept. None of that is addressed in the current revision of NFPA 1901. A modified purchasing specification form should include the clean cab design. Easy-to-clean seats (no fabric) or easy-to-remove seats need to be specified. Of course, no self-contained breathing apparatus should be stored in the cab. Storage in the cab leads to additional cross contamination and does not facilitate the use of lap/shoulder straps. The cab design should have a minimal number of 90-degree bends or corners, and the flooring should be a nonporous material that is easily cleaned but still maintains the needed slip resistance.

Cab entrance and egress should be addressed with proper lighting and proper grab rails (three points of hand/foot contact at all times). The ground below the cab doors must be illuminated when a door is opened so firefighters can see the surface where they are placing their feet as they enter and exit the truck at night. Cab seating should exceed the minimum width required in NFPA 1901. Only the equipment needed during a response should be in the cab—i.e., radio, computer, etc.

The ergonomics of the driver’s position is often overlooked. The controls and gauges should be laid out in a logical manner and easily reached and read from the driver’s seat. Air filtration, such as easily field-replaceable HEPA filters, adds to the air quality inside the cab. Also, it is important that the interiors of cab doors have light and retroreflective stripes so motorists can quickly detect an open door or a door being opened.


The body of the truck must be designed so that all equipment is easily accessible without having to climb on the cab. This can be accomplished by roll-out and tilt trays as well as slide-out mounting panels. Work lighting for on-scene activities must be strategically placed and designed so as not to blind scene workers. The side striping color should always be of material that is retroreflective and in contrast to the apparatus color. The more the contrast, the better. And, of course, the rear chevrons should always be red with yellow fluorescent colors. A six- or eight-inch-wide stripe is better than the minimum four-inch striping. Many departments are finding that chevron striping on the front bumper is also very effective.

If there will be occasion to climb on top of the rig, such as for hose repacking, the steps and grab rails must be placed for the three points of contact, and the steps should be large enough to easily accommodate feet with protective boots being worn. All standing surfaces must be slip-resistant.

This column has only addressed a few of the key health and safety considerations to include in a specification checklist. There are many others that fire departments will identify that are specific to their needs. Addressing these needs in the specification is far superior to trying to fix them once the truck is built.

ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. His 40-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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