Observations From FDIC

Rosenbauer's hydraulic EZ Load hosebed in its lowered position
Rosenbauer’s hydraulic EZ Load hosebed in its lowered position.
Rosenbauer's Lazy Susan
Rosenbauer’s Lazy Susan step configuration revolves out when the cab door is opened. (Fire Apparatus Photo)

The lack of travel funding for many departments did not seem to diminish the attendance at the 2009 Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis this year. The exhibit floors and the classrooms were packed as if we were in a robust economy. Equally important, the exhibitors did not disappoint those who attended, as many new or improved products were unveiled.

Several things caught my eye as I meandered through the exhibits. First of all, it was great to see the evolution of a new SCBA cylinder(s) flexible flat pack still moving forward. Though it was not on display at any manufacturer’s booth, there was a unit on a mannequin at the Indianapolis Firefighters Union booth. For details of this unit, please see the article on the cover of the April issue. I had the privilege of seeing the first prototype of this unit two years ago, and I was excited about the possibilities. However, I knew there were numerous testing hurdles to be crossed before it would meet NFPA standards and gain NIOSH and DOT approval.

The flex pack is not a new SCBA, but a total reconfiguration of the air supply. Rather than a single cylinder, the new product is an arrangement of several smaller cylinders, each of which is no more than two inches in diameter. If the product is approved, it will provide a SCBA that is lighter weight, significantly lower profile, and with better weight distribution. This, in turn, will provide firefighters with increased mobility, a better center of gravity, more endurance, an ability to crawl through tighter spaces, and possibly a longer air supply. Let’s all hope the product progresses to the market and at an attractive price.

Fire Programs Software

FirePrograms Software was featuring its new “Apparatus to Web Interface Device” that allows the apparatus to communicate directly to its RMS (Records Management System) through a wireless Internet connection. This allows incident run data to automatically download upon return to the station. It will notify appropriate personnel via email of maintenance alerts and monitor trouble codes on the apparatus. The apparatus status can be viewed anytime, anywhere through a Web browser.

In addition, FirePrograms representatives were gathering feedback for a product they have developed that inventories equipment and firefighter training. All fire equipment is assigned a code and fire departments download their inventory into a database. This is an application that could be used for multi-jurisdictional responses to major events.

For example, a large-scale rescue effort may require multiple hydraulic rescue tools. An incident commander could go on the Web, search available apparatus on the scene with hydraulic rescue tools (including specific brand tools for hydraulic oil compatibility) and make appropriate assignments. Or, if there is a need for firefighters with specialized skills, such as underwater diving, the database would provide the skill-set level of the available on-scene personnel and the incident commander could make quick and effective assignments.

The product should be introduced at Fire Rescue International in Dallas this August. I found all of this technology fascinating as it dovetails nicely with the vehicle data recorders (VDRs) now required on apparatus. Yes, the day will come when the fire chief can receive a text message or phone call the instant a fire apparatus is exceeding a pre-determined speed.

An item of interest that was not being exhibited, but was found on two or three rigs (including Phoenix) was the installation of Xenon HID (high intensity discharge) headlight kits. These are the lights that have a blue tint that have been available on high-end automobiles such as Mercedes and BMW. Kits are now available for most any vehicle, including fire apparatus. The manufacturer claims the lights produce three times more light, greatly increased peripheral vision, use 40 percent less amps and last three to five times as long as regular lights. Most importantly, they claim visibility in inclement weather is its biggest advantage because it does not create road glare (bounce back) on wet roads.

Xenon HID Incentives

The Phoenix Fire Department is equipping all new apparatus with the lights and already has 65 of the units in service. The feedback from the field has been very positive, according to Division Chief John Simmons. At about $1,000 a truck, many departments may be reluctant to consider them. However, the manufacturer has incentives for departments to give them a try. Information about the lights can be found at http://www.brightheadlights-hid.com/Xenon-HID-Fire-Trucks.htm. This is definitely a product in the category of “seeing is believing.

Now that NFPA has appointed a technical committee to develop a standard for ambulances, we are already seeing new design changes to improve safety. One obvious focus of the committee will be safety in the patient compartment, especially for the attendants. Lifeguard Technologies (a Division of IMMI), in partnership with Horton Emergency Vehicles introduced its RollTek airbag for ambulance compartments. It’s somewhat similar to the RollTek available in eight of the nine major fire apparatus cabs.

McCoy Miller was once again showing its side-load ambulance. The side-load eliminates side-facing seating positions, a real problem when it comes to occupant restraint and cabinetry being in the strike zone of the attendant. The attendant chairs move side to side on tracks and telescope forward and backward to minimize the need to stand. Each seat has a five-point safety harness.

KME And Plastisol

KME had a very eye-catching crash fire vehicle. The cab and body were made by Plastisol. Its appearance was as sleek and space age as any vehicle made in the U.S. The look appeared to have received inspiration from the Jetsons (for those of us old enough to remember them). It is a design style that has been in use in Europe for several years. The cab and chassis are now made in the U.S.

The Rosenbauer exhibit was especially fascinating. For those who desire an updated “old-style” look, their pumper-tanker on the International chassis had a hood that looked as though it received inspiration from the Federal Truck company vehicles of early 1940s. Anyone remember them?

Of particular interest in the Rosenbauer exhibit, was an apparatus they referred to as the Compact. It is a European style truck with a unique cab step design. The steps revolve outward in a “lazy-Susan” manner when the cab door is opened. When the door is closed, they are recessed within the cab. When a firefighter’s weight is on the steps, the revolving action locks the steps into place until the firefighter is no longer on the steps. The design provides a much better entrance and egress angle without increasing the overall width of the truck. Rosenbauer hopes to have a similar vehicle and step design available for the U.S. market by next year. A similar concept using door actuated flip-down steps has been available with the Pierce Quantum for the past few years.

Rosenbauer also introduced a hose bed that lowered along the side of the body so that hose could be repacked without climbing on the truck. This created one of those “why didn’t someone think of this earlier” moments.

It was good to see another articulating platform introduced. The Rosenbauer T-Rex unit is similar in design to the Bronto aerial devices. These designs eliminate the problem of rear-mounted platforms creating visibility problems for drivers, and they can minimize the extreme overhang from the rear axle of mid-mount platforms. The T-Rex platform would also swivel from its mounting point on the aerial arm.

Overall, I noticed that most manufacturers are paying attention to such safety items as cab entrance and egress, equipment access and stowage and vehicle data management. For that, the fire service should be thankful.

Editor’s Note: Robert Tutterow, who has 30 years in the fire service, is the Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department health and safety officer. He is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Department Apparatus Committee and is on two other NFPA committees, the Structural and Proximity Firefighting Protective Ensemble Technical Committee and the Technical Correlating Committee for Fire and Emergency Services PPE.

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