Protection Systems Mature Inside Apparatus Cabs

Alan M. Petrillo

Fire apparatus cabs are getting safer for occupants with various protection systems being installed by manufacturers to protect firefighters-from beefed up cab structures to nearly-all-around air bag protection to custom-designed seat belt harnessing systems.

Egress Systems

Rosenbauer’s director of dealer development, Mike Schoenberger, says his company builds safety and integrity into its custom Commander cabs, as well as into the Smart Cab crew module that can be mounted onto the back of a two-door commercial chassis.

The Smart Cab features a 96-inch width that allows four firefighters to be seated across the cab, Schoenberger says, as well as EZGress swing out steps. “EZGress has a large stepping surface in a three-step arrangement that makes it easy to get in and out of the cab,” he says. “You don’t have to back out, you walk out like on a staircase. When the firefighter puts weight on the step, it locks in place.”

A choice of air-actuated or electric steps is standard on some Pierce custom cabs and options on others, according to Lilsa Barwick, director of product management for cab, chassis, and electrical products at Pierce Manufacturing. “The steps are tucked up and out of the elements when firefighters are in the cab,” she says. “When deployed, they provide a more ergonomic stair step approach to getting in and out of the cab to help prevent knee or hip injuries.”

A split view of immediately before and at the moment of a crash impact of the cab front air bags deploying during a Spartan Chassis test of its Advanced Protection System
(1) A split view of immediately before and at the moment of a crash impact
of the cab front air bags deploying during a Spartan Chassis test of its
Advanced Protection System, standard equipment on several of its chassis.
(Photo courtesy of Spartan Chassis.)

Cab Protection Systems

Schoenberger says both the Smart Cab and the custom Commander cab passed the side impact and roof crush tests required by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. “Our crew cabs have full-width floors for firefighter safety and comfort,” he observes. “There is no step well in the crew cab.

The custom Commander cab, which is made out of 3/16-inch extruded aluminum, offers complete air bag protection for occupants, Schoenberger notes-a driver’s steering wheel air bag, officer’s knee air bag, and side air bags in the crew area for outer seat positions. “About 25 percent of our vehicles are equipped with air bags,” he says. “It’s a choice of the customer because the NFPA does not require them.”

Inside the cab, Pierce has developed ergonomic seats with integrated side air bag protection, as well as dual seat belt retractors. “Over the years, we integrated air bags into the cab’s side walls and now into the seats,” Barwick observes. “And, our extra-long seat belts retract much quicker so they don’t dangle and get hooked on things or get caught in doors.”

IMMI ReadyReach seat belt system
(2) Pierce Manufacturing uses the IMMI ReadyReach seat belt system for its
cabs-extra long seat belts that retract much quicker so they don’t dangle,
get hooked on equipment, or get caught in doors. (Photo courtesy of Pierce
Manufacturing Inc.)

In the front of the cab, Pierce installs a driver’s air bag that deploys from the steering wheel, as well as a knee air bag for the officer.

Pierce also uses large single-piece bonded windshields in its custom cabs, Barwick notes. “Studies have shown them to be much safer than gasketed windshields and they provide a high degree of visibility,” she adds.

Bruce Nalesnik, KME’s senior chassis sales engineer, says KME “tends to overbuild our trucks for longevity, strength, and durability.” He notes that frontal impact air bag protection is provided for the driver through steering wheel and knee air bags and knee air bags for the officer as standard for the KME Predator and optional in the Panther and Severe Service models.

Barwick says Pierce designs cab safety elements by using a 360-degree approach to protecting occupants. “On all six models of our custom cabs we use 12 main structural members-heavy wall extrusions that run vertically up the A-, B- and C-pillars from floor to roof that tie into the roof to form a cage-like structure,” Barwick says. “We use ¼-inch-thick aluminum plates for the firewall and the sides of the engine tunnel, with cross-cab support panels in the floor, while the rear wall of the cab has heavy anchor plates to serve as seat belt mounting points.”

KME designs and manufactures all cabs and chassis in house for its fire apparatus, says Jason Davis, chassis group product manager. “With cab models, we do a three-dimensional analysis of the structure to custom engineer the platform the customer demands, which gives us the flexibility to design different features into the cab in house,” Davis says.

“We also offer a rollover protection package in concert with all the cabs that KME builds,” he says. “And, we’re the strongest in the industry in frontal impact, roof, and side loads. For frontal impact, we sustained 2.1 times what the NFPA requires to ensure the cab stays mounted on the frame.”

E-ONE offers driver side cab protection from the steering wheel
(3) E-ONE offers driver side cab protection from the steering wheel in both
knee areas and on the side impact area. (Photo courtesy of E-ONE.)

E-ONE’s ProTech cab features the company’s all-welded roll cage construction with no adhesives that supports five times the roof load required by the NFPA, Joe Hedges, E-ONE’s product manager for aerials and chassis, says. Inside the cab, CrewGuard is an occupant protection system that makes sure all firefighters are seated and belted in correct order. ProTech also uses seat belt pretensioners where it snugs down occupant seat belts before air bags deploy if the vehicle senses that a rollover or frontal impact is imminent. The driver and officer have frontal air bag and knee air bag protection, he says, while the crew in the back has side air bags.

According to Steve Siler, manager of Spartan Chassis’s project management group, most Spartan Chassis vehicles have eight air bags, he says, including the steering wheel, two at the driver’s knees, one at the officer’s knees, and four side curtain air bags that deploy from above the doors on a four-door cab.

“One of the most effective systems is the extended length advanced seatbelt system,” Siler points out. “We use a pyrotechnic pretensioner that, in the event of an accident, pulls the belt tight and draws the occupant into the seat. In a front impact, it reduces deceleration injuries by letting out some of the seatbelt tension at the right moment.” The system is directed by eight outboard accelerometer sensors in the front and sides of the cab that measure an impact as it happens.”

Safety Technology

Nalesnik believes there are products being used in the over-the-road trucking industry today that will slowly be brought into the fire service. “They’re using radar warning systems and sensors that monitor blind spots and give advanced warning when moving sideways into traffic,” he says. “Some systems slow down the vehicle if the operator doesn’t in a crisis situation,” he adds.

Such a system is available today on E-ONE fire apparatus, says Hedges. “As part of our ProTech safety technology package, we’ve added a component that should prevent or mitigate frontal accidents in the first place,” Hedges says. “ProTech includes the On Guard system made by Meritor Wabco, which is integrated with the braking system and tied into the engine controls.”

The ProTech system developed by E-ONE
(4, 5) The ProTech system developed by E-ONE includes On Guard, which scans the
highway in front of the vehicle while it is rolling and determines if the apparatus is in
danger of impacting any other vehicle on the road. The system also is able to provide
a 360-degree view of the vehicle that is shown on the driver’s multiplex display.
(Images courtesy of E-ONE.)

Hedges says On Guard scans the highway in front of the vehicle and determines if the apparatus will impact any other vehicle on the road. “It can track multiple objects in your lane and the lane next to you,” Hedges says. “If you approach a vehicle and don’t take evasive action or cannot do so, it will apply up to 50 percent of braking power to allow the driver time to get his foot on the brake pedal and fully depress the brake.”

The On Guard system is always active when the vehicle is started. Hedges says it can track vehicles up to 600 feet in front of it and can see through environmental conditions like smoke, fog, rain, or snow.

“It uses a dual-zone radar, both a wide zone and a long narrow beam, that sends data to a display that tells you it’s tracking a vehicle,” Hedges points out. “It will go through a series of audible warnings and visual multiple colored warnings as a threat looms closer and if the vehicle gets too close, pops, or taps the brake pedal in a haptic warning to the driver before applying the engine brake and 50 percent of the foundation brakes.” The system is designed to brake very late, Hedges adds, which allows drivers to do normal emergency response driving.

ProTech also offers multiple camera options on E-ONE cabs and chassis, Hedges says. One of them provides a 360-degree view. “It takes the front, side, and rear views and stitches those together into a single overhead view that is shown on the driver’s multiplex display,” Hedges says. “It’s a live 360-degree image around the vehicle.” ProTech also offers a conventional rear camera for backing up, as well as an optional backup sensor that gives an audible warning depending on the distance from an object.

Siler says that Spartan’s Advanced Protection System (APS) is standard equipment on its Gladiator, MetroStar, MetroStarX, and MetroStarRT chassis as of August of this year. The APS is an option on Spartan ERV chassis. “APS is several different systems working together,” Siler says, “front, side, and rollover impact systems, along with a restraint control module under the dash that instructs the air bags when to deploy.”

Vince Baker, public relations specialist for Spartan Chassis, adds that any safety system is not a strong factor unless the occupants are belted in. “Whether it’s our APS or any manufacturer’s safety system,” Baker says, “the system cannot do its job if the firefighter is not wearing a seat belt.”

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based freelance writer and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.

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