Putting the Scene Survey into Motion: Pedestrian Safety and the Fire/Rescue Apparatus

By Steve Rowland

Member companies of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) are involved in the manufacturing and innovation of fire and rescue vehicles.

The overriding focus of the FAMA Technical Committee is safety and encouragement to follow operation and vehicle maintenance best practices. The safety of pedestrians at fire and emergency scenes is one of the newer areas receiving manufacturers’ attention-both civilian and responder.

We live in a world of data. Within seconds, a Google search for “fire truck injuries” produces pages of results relating to firefighter injuries or deaths from apparatus crashes. Whether they are links to in-depth studies from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), or other industry organizations, many results point to persons injured in a crash involving an emergency vehicle. However, an Internet search for “pedestrians injured by fire rescue vehicles” returns anecdotal reports of persons hit while crossing in front of moving emergency vehicles. In response, several FAMA companies are proactively offering solutions intended to reduce pedestrian injuries or deaths by emergency vehicles.

The Backup Alarm

A long-existing requirement in NFPA standards, the backup alarm is still often viewed as a pesky annoyance by many apparatus operators. Often, the ability to cancel or mute the backup alarm is available in manufacturers’ specifications because of frequent requests from apparatus purchasers. I simply offer this parallel to the reader: Since the PASS device has a loud, shrill, and annoying tone, should the firefighter be able to mute it before entering the building on an interior attack because it might bother others? The answer is a resounding no. The backup alarm provides an audible alert to pedestrians to beware and be alert because something is backing up. Please use it.

Supplemental Lighting

Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) require reverse lighting on vehicles. However, the lighting is specifically designed not to be excessively bright to avoid blinding fellow motorists in parking lots, driveways, or other routine scenarios. Emergency apparatus have any number of other lighting devices available to supplement the FMVSS requirements while backing. Departments may consider linking emergency lighting, rear scene lighting, and side scene lighting to the reverse gear so that they come on automatically while the vehicle is backing up. As in the case of the backup alarm, all of this supplemental lighting can be “annoying,” but safety and effectiveness should take priority over convenience and comfort.

Camera Systems

Several FAMA member companies are in the business of providing camera technology for emergency apparatus. Whether incorporated into side view mirrors, tied into multiplexing displays, or as a standalone system, video technology has advanced to the point where nearly all common blind spots are now visible to the operator, no matter what the operation. Gaining popularity are systems that provide a “bird’s-eye” or 360-degree overhead view of the apparatus made possible by a multicamera system calibrated together. Consider camera technology options when specifying new products or refurbishing older vehicles in your fleet.

Radar Systems

Perhaps the latest emerging technology comes from the personal vehicle market. Although radar backup sensors have been used for some time, new to the market are sophisticated full-vehicle radar systems that alert the driver to brake if his vehicle approaches another from behind too quickly; sense and provide an alert when vehicles are present on either side of the apparatus; and may have the ability, coupled with cameras, to alert the driver to lane departures. Even though a self-driving pumper is probably down the road, the technology for the vehicle to intervene and alert in many unsafe conditions is available now.

Spotter Switch

Used for a long time in the ambulance marketplace, some fire apparatus manufactures offer a backing spotter’s switch. The spotter’s switch is a pushbutton switch located on the rear or rear-most side of an apparatus. When the driver places the transmission into reverse, a press of the spotter’s switch is required within several seconds, or else a buzzer or light (or both) is illuminated in the cab to tell the driver to wait until he has a backer in place to direct and observe safe reversing. These action sequences can also be recorded in the vehicle’s event data recorder for training and review.

Protocol and SOP

Like every other safety technique, device, or gear, the safety provided by the above technologies is directly tied to utilization. Safety is indeed everyone’s business, but without the culture of incorporating safety into every fireground operation-as well as during transit to and from the fireground-all the gadgets and gizmos in the world won’t help if they aren’t used. Consider taking the time to revisit and revise your department’s safety procedures often to take advantage of the advancements being made every day by FAMA member companies.

FAMA is committed to 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.

STEVE ROWLAND is the regional sales manager (Southern U.S.) for Demers Ambulances. A former firefighter and EMT, he has served in the sales groups of leading public safety companies Federal Signal, Akron Brass, Pierce/Medtec, and Ferno-Washington. He is co-chair of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association’s (FAMA) ambulance technical subcommittee and is FAMA’s representative to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1917, Standard for Automotive Ambulances, committee.

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