Being invited to contribute to a “Guest Column” printed in the same space previously commanded by Mr. Jorgensen is both an honor and a little daunting. However, I will attempt to attain his high standards of observation and comment on the theme of this month’s issue.
This issue’s theme of “Protecting the Firefighter” is at the forefront of most apparatus manufacturers’ thoughts when designing, building and testing our latest offerings. The National Fire Protection Association establishes the safety performance and features that should be accepted by fire departments based on current analysis of common safety issues, incidents and available technology.
Several manufacturers intentionally design apparatus to exceed the NFPA minimum recommendations to increase the level of safety built into their vehicles, increasing both the “Protection of the Firefighters” and often enhancing the overall performance of their apparatus, particularly in designing for improved crash worthiness and structural performance of aerial ladders and platforms. However, apparatus committees should be aware that some manufacturers have been known to apply loose interpretation, at best, to NFPA compliance guidelines, which is not in the best interest of the safety of your firefighters.
It is well documented that many serious injuries and loss of lives occur while en route to a scene or when returning to the firehouse. Therefore, the 2009 revision of the NFPA 1901 apparatus standard focuses on the use of safety belts, vehicle visibility and data recording – all of which are intended to address the “human factors” that typically contribute to serious or fatal injuries.
A common misconception is that new NFPA standards are written by a committee made up of manufacturers with the intent of increasing content so they can raise truck prices. The truth is that NFPA standards are written by a committee with only 10 manufacturer representatives. The majority of the committee consists of 20 industry experts and end-users with years of experience who accept their significant responsibility of ensuring NFPA standards limit the risk of safety-related incidents on a voluntary basis.
As manufacturers we hold the responsibility of educating our customers to accept and adopt safety features designed to protect lives and are often the defenders of NFPA requirements. This is especially true in these difficult economic times as fire department budgets are under pressure and some incremental cost has been driven by the changes imposed in 2009. Common questions include:
Why was occupant detection made standard?
The greatest safety innovation in vehicle design in the past 50 years has been the humble seat belt, with indisputable evidence of its benefits in collision and rollover incidents. The fire service has a front row seat at car wrecks and knows all too well the fatal consequences of occupants who did not wear their seat belts. Despite our experience, the fire service has an apparent incurable aversion to complying with mandatory use of seat belts. “Big Brother” will now be watching you through the occupancy detection system and a mandatory vehicle data recorder (VDR) in all vehicles built to 1901:2009 edition NFPA standards.
Studies by the insurance industry demonstrate if you are at risk of being caught, behavior changes and – in this case – seat belts get worn.
Do we have to have chevron striping on the back of our truck?
All reputable manufacturers build trucks in compliance with NFPA guidelines; therefore the answer should be “yes.”
Chevron striping should be applied to 50 percent of the rear facing vertical surfaces of all apparatus ordered since Jan. 1, 2009. NFPA identified a significant rise in accidents related to rear impacts, hence the need to increase visibility of the trucks, particularly when attending traffic accidents.
Why is electronic stability control (ESC) mandatory for many types of apparatus?
NFPA guidelines require apparatus to remain stable up to 26.5 degrees of tilt in both directions. This can be measured on a tilt table, as undertaken by most of the larger manufacturers, or may be calculated to determine the center of gravity, which can be no higher than 80 percent of the rear axle track width. If the vehicle’s tilt angle capability is less than 26.5 degrees or the center of gravity is higher than 80 percent of the track width, ESC is mandatory.
There has been a recorded increase in apparatus rollovers. ESC provides a significant increase in vehicle stability during evasive maneuvers or when entering a bend in the road too fast. As an example of the benefits of ESC, you can see a video of the heaviest vehicle tested thus far to the best of our knowledge, an E-ONE Bronto, at www.e-one.com.
Why is NFPA forcing a limitation on speed?
Departments, particularly those covering interstate highways, are finding the limitation on speed more difficult to accept. Apparatus with a gross vehicle weight exceeding 50,000 pounds or equipped with larger than a 1,250-gallon tank cannot exceed 60 mph. Vehicles under 50,000 pounds or equipped with a smaller tank cannot exceed 68 mph. Here is a common statement we hear: “If you are in a wreck on the interstate, you don’t expect responders to be delayed by only going 60 mph.”
Reducing speed has several safety advantages: (a) reducing the braking distance of the truck, preventing accidents; (b) reducing the potential for rollovers; and (c) eliminating the temptation to drive at the edge of a vehicle’s capability when the adrenalin is flowing en route to a scene.
Other Big Safety Precautions
Lack of appropriately scheduled maintenance, particularly on brakes and suspension systems, has caused numerous fatal accidents from large city departments to small rural volunteer fire departments. If you are faced with restrained budgets that extend the service life of your department’s apparatus, the department must expect and budget for increased maintenance costs. It could be a matter of life or death.
Wearing a safety harness while operating aerials, from 75-foot ladders to 134-foot articulating platforms, should be mandatory in your department. The latest National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report strongly recommends the use of safety harnesses a copy of the report is available at www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire.
Collectively we are an industry dedicated to serving communities and workplaces to protect lives and property. Let us recognize the valuable work of the NFPA committee as we pursue better ways to keep firefighters safe by continuing to evolve NFPA standards in response to the ever-changing demands of the job, apparatus configurations and adoption of the latest safety system technologies.
In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Peter Jorgensen for his years of dedication and contribution to the fire service and wish the readers of Fire Apparatus magazine a happy, safe and prosperous new year.