In my 48 years in and around the fire service, I have been called a lot of things, some nice and some not so nice.
Several years ago, an old friend was introducing me as a speaker and among other things, he said I was a Safety Zealot. I was not sure how to take that comment, but the statement was true.
For a long time, I have been dedicated to making apparatus and equipment as safe as possible for our firefighters.
I have my reasons for being a Safety Zealot and I’ll share a couple. As a young man, I witnessed a firefighter fall off the rear step of a moving apparatus. I’m not 100 percent sure what happened, but it might have been due to the 20 men piled on the responding truck that had only three seats.
I witnessed it again some 25 years later, only this time it was my brother who took a tumble off a rear step. He spent the subsequent eight months recuperating.
Having been involved with the apparatus business since 1966, and because of these two accidents, it became my mission to prevent injuries in and around our rigs.
I’m pleased to say that I was an active National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 committee member in 1991 when the standard was upgraded to include, among other things, fully enclosed cabs and increased strength and testing of aerial ladders. Both changes have reduced injuries substantially.
The 1901 committee has been continually improving the standard to include new technology and safety upgrades whenever possible. Improvements in warning light systems, reflective striping, red seat belts, hose bed covers, electrical system load managers, slip-resistant walking surfaces and access rails, and anti-lock and auxiliary braking systems are just a few of the changes that have improved safety.
If being a safety zealot helps improve the apparatus, you can count me in.
Areas that were not included in the 2003 version of NFPA 1901, but that are currently being considered for future editions, include seat belt warning systems, so the officer will know if firefighters are belted. It can’t be stressed too much that seat belts save lives.
Other items under consideration are Chevron striping on the rear of all apparatus to improve visibility and thereby reduce rear-end collisions; remote controlled mirrors; a 68 mph maximum speed or fire service tire speed ratings, whichever is lower; hose bed covers to eliminate inadvertent hose deployment; and longer seat belts to accommodate bunker gear, hand tools and heavier firefighters.
The committee is evaluating ways to reduce the center of gravity, require electronic stability control, mandate high visibility traffic vests for all seating positions as well as traffic cones to reroute traffic at motor vehicle accidents.
Firefighters accustomed to riding in custom chassis apparatus have had many of these options available over the past few years. International, a maker of commercial trucks often used for fire apparatus, has joined the march for safety improvements by introducing the following options: cab interior grab handles (the ones visible when the doors are open), available in bright yellow; headlights that automatically turn on whenever wipers are turned on as standard equipment; parking brake alarms for air or hydraulic breaks, a simple beeping of the horn alerts drivers that the brake is not set when they open the door.
By the end of the year, International Trucks plans to have the full roll stability program (RSP) available for all emergency vehicles as well as longer seat belts.
I suspect Freightliner, another popular commercial cab and chassis for fire apparatus, will be making similar upgrades.
Some people may remember my recommendations from other columns, ones that are not required in the NFPA standards, but ones you may want to consider, they are: a Class A foam system or a compressed air foam system (CAFS) if your budget can handle it; a 30-gallon foam cell with an automatic, ground-level refill system; front brow lights for lighting up long lanes and low hanging tree limbs; and a headlight flashing system.
You should also consider striping in rub rails and on shelf edges; a yellow traffic director at the apparatus rear, the higher the better; personal protective monitors (PPMs) that are high volume and easily deployed; logical and ergonomic pump panels; power light mast systems and a walkway up the center of the hose bed for easier and safer hose loading.
Despite the best efforts of many experts to make apparatus safer, there is one area where the 1901 apparatus standard has no control. Want to guess what that is? If you said the firefighter/driver you would be correct.
Proper driver training and sensible driving rules are training issues and the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the fire department officers and members.
Train drivers in all weather conditions; constantly remind them they are responsible for the crew’s safety and that they are driving an 18- to 35-ton vehicle that does not respond like their Toyota pickup.
Let’s all proudly wear our safety zealot badges and do what we can to keep firefighters alive.
Editor’s Note: Bob Barraclough is editorial director of Fire Apparatus and has been involved with the fire service for more than 40 years as a firefighter and industry consultant. He is a member of the NFPA 1901 Fire Apparatus Standards committee, an organizer of the annual FDSOA Apparatus Specification Symposium and a long-time member of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association.