Keeping It Safe: Operating Safely in and Around Fire Apparatus

keeping it safe | Robert Tutterow

Operating Safely in and Around Apparatus

One of the more valuable presentations at this year’s Fire Department Safety Officers Association Apparatus Specifications & Maintenance Symposium was a presentation titled “Specifications and Practices for Working Safer Around Apparatus” by Doug Miller, with Task Force Tips, and Roger Lackore, with REV Group.

Robert Tutterow

A lot of safety initiatives are centered around the scene of the emergency. Yet, many firefighters suffer injuries, and even fatalities, while operating around apparatus. Almost annually, there is a firefighter line-of-duty death from falling off an apparatus or being run over by an apparatus.

A key principle in designing and specifying an apparatus is to minimize the need to climb on top of the apparatus. For example, if you specify a deck gun, it should be remote controlled and permanently mounted. As deck guns are typically stored in a dunnage area, it is important to make sure everything in the dunnage area is fixed, not portable equipment. Often foam tanks are filled on top of the apparatus in the dunnage area, but a foam fill option at the pump panel is an inexpensive option that is far safer than standing on top of the apparatus where slick foam may be on the standing surface. Portable master stream appliances should be stowed in a compartment at the lowest level for easy and safe access. In many cases, there is an added cost of having two master stream devices, but it offers the best, quickest, and most versatile deployment.

Speaking of compartments, the popularity of roll-up doors over the past couple of years lends itself to important safety benefits. When opened, they do not increase the footprint of the apparatus, whereas swing-open doors increase the footprint and make it difficult for passing motorists to see firefighters accessing a compartment and firefighters to see oncoming traffic. And then, there is also the tremendous amount of damage caused if a hinged door is left open when the vehicle exits the apparatus bay.

Inside compartments, roll-out trays for on the bottom of compartments make for safer lifting and retrieval of equipment, especially heavier pieces. The pull-out, tilt-down shelves for upper-level storage make equipment a lot easier to access and do not put the body in an awkward lifting position. Of course, equipment-organizing packages that secure the equipment to keep it from falling out onto a firefighter is always a good investment. In addition, it allows for a quick glance to a see if any equipment is missing.

Granted, there are reasons to climb on apparatus. In fact, we must climb up into the apparatus cab and then climb back down. As with climbing a ladder, the angle of the climb should be considered (American apparatus cabs are designed much better than European designed cabs when it comes to the angle of the climb). A key point in placing grab handles is that there should always be three points of contact—i.e., one foot/two hands or one hand/two feet. An interesting point made by Miller and Lackore was the placement of a grab handle underneath the windshield wipers. As firefighters try to access the windshield for cleaning, they will grab the windshield wiper and often break the windshield wiper off the truck. Not only is this a repair that could be avoided, it is a very dangerous situation for the firefighter. Another key placement for a grab handle is for the driver/operator. If he grabs the steering wheel (a handhold that will move when pulled) to assist the climb into the apparatus, there is a risk of rotator cuff injuries, especially if it is a repetitive maneuver.

A lot of this discussion centers around specifying new apparatus. However, there are likely some things you could do with your existing apparatus to make them safer. It is at least worth a thorough walk-around to find out.


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 34-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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