Pinable Waterway Failures Prompt Action From NFPA

Most of you have seen or heard about the May 8, 2008 safety advisory by NIOSH indicating that some pinable waterways and monitors have been ejected from aerials when the waterway was pressurized.

Quoting NIOSH, “Preliminary findings…suggest that some equipment designs do not provide secondary stops for the waterway on aerial ladders. Thus, failure to properly secure the waterway in the proper position can lead to catastrophic waterway failure and possible serious or fatal injury.”

This is serious stuff. In one case, this resulted in the death of a deputy chief at an industrial fire in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, the other reported incidents – at least nine – did not result in either a serious injury or a fatality.

All aerial manufacturers state something like this in their instruction packages: For aerials with the pinable waterway option, operating personnel must be properly trained to position the waterway and to inspect and verify that the locking mechanism is properly set and functioning. This is all well and good, but since the rash of accidents, it appears that a secondary means to keep the nozzles and waterways on the ladder and not flying through the air is needed.

Let’s take a minute to understand the mechanics of the situation and what can and has been done to mitigate it. On most aerials with permanently installed waterways, there is an option to have two modes for the position of the monitor/nozzle. Hereafter this is referred to as a “pinable waterway” although some aerial manufacturers use levers or clamps rather than pins to secure the waterway at the fly or the next section down.

When a department has an aerial with a pinable waterway and they decide to effect a rescue with the ladder or to put firefighters on a roof or in a window, the waterway can be attached to the ladder section just below the fly so as to free the fly section of any monitor or waterway obstructions. This is called the rescue mode.

On other occasions, it may be desirable to have the nozzle at the tip of the ladder to have maximum reach with the stream. We’ll call this is the water tower mode.

Fire personnel make the choice of which mode to use depending on their SOPs and the situation. The problem comes when the monitor and waterway are not properly secured in either position and the waterway gets pressurized. When this happens, there could be upwards of 250 psi pushing a 30-foot tube of water and the 80-pound monitor toward the tip of the fly. It’s sort of like a cannon shot.

In some aerial designs, it is impossible to have the monitor/waterway not locked in one position or the other due to spring locks or similar devices.

However, there are some ladder versions – mostly older ones – where a secondary stop was not provided and the monitor or waterway is not automatically locked. This is when the monitor and waterway could become a flying missile as the waterway is pressurized. In this case, a strong secondary stop is the only way to prevent ejection from the ladder.

Customers Notified

I contacted nine aerial manufacturers and was pleased to learn that all have notified their customers of the NIOSH bulletin and offered suggestions how proper training and operation could prevent this unfortunate occurrence.

Most aerial providers have always included a secondary stop as part of their package. On older versions of some ladders, where this back-up safety stop was not part of the original design, retrofit kits were offered. If you are unsure if your ladder has the proper stop(s), call the manufacturer and find out.

Caution. If your department is not the original purchaser of the aerial device, you may not have received a notice of possible problems and updates needed. In this case, your department should contact the original aerial manufacturer for guidance and recommendations.

There is nothing in the 2009 version of NFPA 1901 that specifically requires a secondary means to prevent the ejection of a monitor and waterway. The NFPA 1901 committee considered the following wording for a Tentative Interim Amendment (TIA) to paragraph 19.6.4 at its meeting in Orlando last month:

The Proposed TIA

“For ladders that have a waterway design that allows the monitor to be connected to different ladder sections, a secondary means, not requiring operator intervention, shall be provided to prevent the monitor from being ejected from the ladder.”

Committee members attending the meeting decided to submit the proposed TIA to a letter ballot vote of the full committee. If approved by 75 percent of committee members, it will be forwarded to the NFPA Standards Council for issuance.

As you can read, this is a serious problem that should be investigated by all departments having aerial ladders with multi-position waterways. Take the safe route – inspect your ladders and waterways, train your people and consult the manufacturer if you have any questions.

Editor’s Note: Bob Barraclough is a 40-year veteran of the fire service and fire manufacturing industry. He is chief columnist for Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment magazine and a 20-year member of the NFPA 1901 Fire Apparatus Standards Committee. A principal organizer of the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification Symposium, he is also a past president of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association. Barraclough serves as a consultant to Rosenbauer America and Akron Brass and is called upon as an expert witness in litigation. His career includes executive positions at E-ONE, Hale Fire Pumps, National Foam, Span Instruments and Class 1.

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