By Roger Lackore
The latest revision of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, contains a new requirement aimed at firefighter safety when working on the top of an apparatus.
Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) member companies have been planning on how to best comply with the standard and are anticipating a transitional period while both the manufacturers and the apparatus purchasers work through the details of this new requirement. We hope that the guidance in this article helps in this transition.
Safety Is Top of the Line
Safety is always a top priority in fire operations. Although there are many inherent hazards at a fire scene, you can minimize the hazards of working on top of the apparatus by planning ahead and following safe practices. In most operations, you can eliminate the need for climbing on the apparatus by not storing equipment in areas that would require climbing to reach it.
For those times when you cannot avoid working on top of the apparatus, the NFPA standard has defined that the best approach is for apparatus manufacturers to designate areas where standing or walking may be allowed when absolutely required for operational needs. These designated areas will be outlined by a yellow or orange line around the perimeter of the surface, and that surface must meet the standard’s slip resistance requirements. This approach is similar to the lines on a factory floor that show where personnel should walk to stay away from potentially hazardous operations or equipment. The standard specifically excludes a designating line for steps or ladders, as those features’ intentions are apparent by design; requiring lines around every step would be excessive.
Who Determines Designated Areas?
Custom apparatus design is a cooperative function between the manufacturer and the fire department. The apparatus specification must consider the department operations, training, and standard operating procedures. Designation of standing and walking surfaces must therefore take into account the intended use and be determined at the time the apparatus is being configured. Department members should work with their manufacturer, review every horizontal surface on top of the apparatus, and identify every location where a firefighter would need to stand or walk to perform essential tasks during operations.
Service Access Excluded
It is important to note that designated standing and walking areas do not need to include areas where access will be limited to service or maintenance needs. These functions can be performed in controlled environments and with the use of ladders, nonslip mats, fall protection devices, and other means to ensure safety. Of course, the fire department may determine that, in its operations service, access areas also should be designated and can specify this as desired.
Surface Height Requirement
NFPA 1901 indicates that a line is required only at heights above 48 inches (four feet). This value was drawn from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements found in Code of Federal Regulations Title 29. Although these regulations contain many details that vary according to industry, a four-foot-high surface is generally where they begin requiring a 42-inch-tall railing in working facilities and the construction of work sites.
It is not practical to require 42-inch-high OSHA railings on most areas of fire apparatus for obvious reasons. NFPA 1901 requires that certain locations such as aerial baskets and turntable platforms have railings with very specific design constraints. These are areas where operators are required to stand for extended periods of time to perform their tasks. Most other high areas on an apparatus are used to gain access to equipment or hose storage areas. An apparatus with 42-inch-high railings around a hosebed or crosslay area would be unlikely to fit in most fire stations and would be lost under the first oak limb at a wooded subdivision.
The yellow or orange line provides two benefits for apparatus safety. The first is to aid in training new firefighters on where they should and should not be when operating at height. The second is to provide a visual aid in determining when an operator is approaching the edge of the standing or walking surface. Designation of the standing and walking areas may be accomplished in a variety of ways. The designating line is not required where physical features at least 12 inches high guard the edge, making it apparent where the horizontal surface ends. This allows areas such as hosebeds and dunnage areas to be excluded from the need for a line, even though personnel may walk or stand on these areas during operations. The line need only be added on those sides of the perimeter where there is no obvious delineating feature already.
The manner in which the line is added is also open to creativity. The intent of the line is to provide visual indication only. This intent will be met even if the line itself is not completely contiguous. Features of the apparatus may require gaps or discontinuities in the line so long as they do not detract from the visual indication. The potential complexity of surfaces on an apparatus may require the OEM to be creative in how the line is applied. Holes, indentations, embossing, and other surface features may necessitate unique methods of application to provide a durable design while still meeting the intent of the requirement.
Line Color and Size
The standard specifies two line colors: yellow and orange. These colors were selected because they are easily visible and typically associated with safety. Obviously, a yellow line on the surface of a yellow apparatus would not be readily visible; in this case, an orange line would be appropriate. Either color may be used as long it provides a visual contrast with the designated surface.
Compliance Takes Time
As with any new requirement, it will take some time for manufacturers and fire departments to satisfy the standard’s intent. The more planning you do during the early stages of apparatus configuration, the better the results. FAMA member companies stand ready to help departments work through this new requirement while constantly looking for ways to improve the safety of apparatus. FAMA is committed to enhancing the quality of the emergency service community through the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.
ROGER LACKORE is the vice president of product development for Smeal Fire Apparatus Company. He has a BS degree in mechanical engineering and an MS degree in engineering management. He is licensed as a professional engineer and a certified safety professional with 31 years of experience in the heavy vehicle industry.