Safely Working in and around Fire Apparatus

keeping it safe Robert Tutterow

More About Safely Working in and Around Apparatus

This is a continuation of last month’s column about making working in and around fire apparatus safer.

Robert Tutterow

Some of this content is based on a presentation at this year’s Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) Apparatus Specifications and Maintenance Symposium titled, “Specifications and Practices for Working Safer Around Apparatus,” and presented by Doug Miller (Task Force Tips) and Roger Lackore (REV Group). This month will cover some of the positive changes emerging. The presentation centered around pending revisions to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard on Automotive Fire Apparatus. Regardless of whether or not they become requirements, the ideas being discussed should be considered for every apparatus specification.


If the next revision goes through as proposed, then riding in fire apparatus will be more comfortable, and buckling seat/shoulder straps will be much easier. Based on the research of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health report, seat width will be increased. The minimum seat bottom width will be 20.8 inches with a minimum shoulder width of 27.6 inches. However, there is one caveat: Seats will be classified as primary or secondary seats. Secondary seats are for firefighters NOT wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). As the purchaser/specifier, you must tell the manufacturer which seats are primary and secondary. By default, all front seats are deemed primary. This means the maximum number of primary seats across in the rear of cab is three. This can be three across facing forward and three across facing rearward. This a significant improvement in enabling firefighters to access their seat/shoulder straps for buckling.


Without going into detail (as that is almost a totally different subject matter), the inside of cabs is now being designed and equipped with the “Clean Cab Concept” in mind. This includes easier to clean seats, floors, heating/air-conditioning filters, self-contained breathing apparatus out of the cab, etc. In addition, special compartments for stowing contaminated PPE are being included, and special preliminary exposure reduction control equipment is becoming commonplace.


With almost all warning lights now consisting of LEDs, new requirements are necessary. LED improvements have now made the lighting so bright that it can be blinding at night. Blinding lights put firefighters at additional risk, as motorists are not able to see anything but the lights—and they are not going to stop in most cases. The existing NFPA 1901 warning lights requirement is now 25 years old. It was developed around halogen lamps, and the number and intensity of the lights were primarily dictated by alternator capacity. Now, very intense LED lights have a very low electrical draw. The proposed new warning light standard has limitations on intensity at night. In addition, there is a requirement for slower flash patterns. This is a great example of where more and brighter is not better.


Another feature that will be a requirement, if the proposed revision is adopted, is a backup camera on all apparatus. These cameras have become very effective and sharp in almost all lighting conditions, and the cost is very, very minimal. In fact, this is something that should be added to all existing apparatus, not just new ones being developed.

There is also a proposal to make ladder racks safer. Warning light activation will start when the movement starts rather than when the deployment is in its final deployment position. Ladder racks are an excellent feature as they allow for more compartment space if stowed horizontally above high-side compartments. And, retrieving/stowing ground ladders is much easier (and safer) with a ladder rack than without. The ladder is positioned lower and a little farther away from the body of the rig.


Finally, this column will conclude with another swipe at the “blacking” of apparatus as was brought out in a previous column. If all the steps, standing surfaces, and grab handles are black, they are not very visible at night. This is yet another reason to put firefighter safety ahead of having “a look.”

Speaking of “a look” designed for safety, some departments are putting chevron strips on their front bumpers (the correct red/yellow colors), and they effectively add to the safety of the firefighters and the fire apparatus. By the way, has anyone checked out the visibility of the checker board striping on the side of some European apparatus? Hmmm ….


ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board. His 42 years in the fire service include 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Education Resource Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).

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