LifeGuard Designs Apparatus Safety Systems For Firefighters

While en route to a report of smoke in a residence, the driver and lone occupant of a late model fire apparatus lost control of it, slid into ditch and slammed into a line of trees, causing the rig to roll on the driver’s side. The unit was equipped with RollTek side roll protection, which officials said saved the driver’s life.

It was the first documented case of airbag deployment in a fire truck crash. The driver sustained cuts to his head and an injury to his leg. He was extricated within minutes and is expected to make a full recovery.

The identity of the driver and the East Coast community in which it happened was not released because the accident, which happened in the fall and remained under investigation in mid-December.

During the rollover, the airbag deployed to cushion the driver’s head and neck and the his suspension seat dropped down to give him more survivable space while the seatbelt pre-tensioner held him securely in his seat, according to Matt Byam, director of Engineering Services at IMMI, the company that developed the apparatus airbags and safety systems.

RollTek Does Its Job

“RollTek functioned as intended,” said Byam who investigated the deployment. “It did its job in this accident.”

While the first apparatus airbag deployment just happened within the past several months, the technology has been around for at least three years. It’s offered through a company called LifeGuard Technologies, a division of Indiana Mills & Manufacturing, Inc., (IMMI) with headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Westfield, Ind. The company has been designing and manufacturing seatbelt restraints and a myriad of components to keep vehicle occupants safe during accidents. RollTek for fire apparatus is an outgrowth and expansion of what IMMI has been doing for more than 40 years.

Today, there are literally hundreds fire apparatus on the roads with RollTek airbag systems installed. Pierce Manufacturing was the first to offer the option, and other top fire truck builders like KME, Ferrara and Seagrave followed close behind. Custom cab and chassis maker Spartan Chassis, often used in the construction of fire apparatus, also offers airbag protection, and apparatus maker American LaFrance will soon have it available in its apparatus.

James Johnson, director of the on-highway sales group for IMMI, said his company is the leader in occupant safety restraint systems in commercial vehicles and IMMI officials determined that firefighters need the same kind of protection professional drivers.

At the time, IMMI had been working with Pierce Manufacturing, the nation’s leading fire apparatus builder, on seatbelt restraints.

“In our research with Pierce, we determined that firefighters were dying in rollover accidents,” Johnson said, noting that motor vehicle accidents are the second leading cause of firefighter line of duty deaths, behind heart attacks. “Between 1994 and 2005, there were more than 250 firefighters killed in motor vehicle accidents. That’s more than 20 deaths per year and many of those were rollover events.”

Working With Pierce

With the mission of providing the same level of protection afforded other professional drivers, IMMI, through its LifeGuard Technologies division, developed a product called RollTek, a side airbag system, for fire apparatus.

“Working with Pierce, we developed a very, very effective mitigation system,” Johnson said.

IMMI has been working with commercial trucks for more than 40 years, primarily designing, developing and manufacturing seatbelts and harnesses, according to Johnson.

In 2003, Pierce became the first fire apparatus manufacturer to offer a side airbag roll protection system, which includes a suspension seat that drops down and belt pretensioners.

RollTek is available for front and rear occupants, separately or combined.

The cost of a side roll protection system on apparatus can range from $5,000 to $8,000 per apparatus, depending on the number of occupants protected and depending on the manufacturer’s markup, according to Johnson.

“From our experience, the price of the system has not been an issue,” he said. “More often than not, the biggest deterrent is lack of knowledge. People just don’t know they’re available.”

Last year, working with Pierce, IMMI developed a frontal airbag protection system called 4Front. For now, the system is exclusive for Pierce, which made a huge investment in research and development, including crash testing apparatus to develop equations needed for the airbag deployment, Johnson said.

4Front consists of a driver’s side airbag, deployed from the steering wheel, and knee bolsters for the front passenger, Johnson said.

Front Airbag Pricing

Depending on the manufacturer’s mark up, he said the price for the front airbag system should be in the $1,500 to $2,000 range.

Another industry exclusive for Pierce is a SmartDock SCBA holder, the first hands-free unit for fire apparatus. Johnson explained the holder snaps a SCBA cylinder in place, locking it in a jaw at the top. The momentum of a firefighter standing, after strapping the SCBA to himself releases the cylinder from the SmartDock without having to pull a strap, release or lever. In the event of an accident, inertia tightens the jaw around the cylinder, holding the cylinder in place.

Public Education

“Pierce has a history of making tremendous investments in protecting the firefighter,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who has been with IMMI for 16 years, said his company has made significant investments in protecting professional drivers and is pleased to offer its expertise to the fire service.

LifeGuard Technologies has launched a public education campaign aimed at professional drivers, including firefighters, called “Click, Tug & Snug,” designed to encourage use and maintenance of seatbelts and restraining devices.

“We are excited to be part of the fire service,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to bring our commitment to safety and excellence to the fire service and to help all firefighters with the goal of ‘everyone goes home.'”

For information call 317-896-9531 or go to

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