Thirty Years of Safety in Fire Apparatus

FROM THE FDSOA Richard Marinucci

The Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its Annual Apparatus Maintenance & Specification Symposium January 15-17, 2018, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

What prompted the first Apparatus Symposium? Influences included a major legal settlement, the introduction of electronics on apparatus, and a determination to educate fire chiefs on the importance of investing in education and training for fire truck mechanics.

In 1985, a Boston jury found a Wisconsin fire truck manufacturer liable for the injuries sustained by a permanently disabled Massachusetts firefighter because it was too common for firefighters to be hurt from the open-cab design of fire trucks. The impact of that decision was revolutionary in the industry, and within a year fire trucks would be radically redesigned.

The legal liability forced the fire apparatus industry to design safer apparatus while evolving technology was also being integrated into the vehicles. The introduction of Detroit Diesel Electronic Control (DDEC) systems, load management, multiplex systems, and antiskid brakes would result in more sophisticated preventive and routine maintenance on fire apparatus.

Bob Barraclough, a vice president with E-ONE in the 1980s, questioned how fire department mechanics would keep up with the rapid changes to new apparatus. Barraclough, a member of the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) and NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, standard committee brought the question to Fort Worth (TX) Fire Department Chief Larry McMillen, chair of the NFPA 1901 committee. In 1987, working with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) staff, Barraclough and McMillen held a meeting at the Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth with representatives from several state mechanics’ associations and several FAMA members. Jim Bland, of the Houston (TX) Fire Department; Gene Carlson, of the International Fire Service Training Association; and Boyd Cole, Underwriters Laboratories, were among those involved in discussions concerning apparatus maintenance, liability, and training maintenance personnel.

In 1988, the IAFC sponsored the founding of the Fire Apparatus Mechanics Certification Program, governed by the IAFC’s Apparatus Maintenance Section. In 1991, the program was incorporated into the EVT Certification Commission (EVTCC). Providing testing and certification to emergency vehicle technicians, the EVTCC raised the professionalism of mechanics throughout the industry.

As a result of the Fort Worth meeting, Barraclough approached Mary McCormack, administrator, International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI), about hosting a small, focused symposium for fire chiefs and mechanics. In 1988, the first Apparatus Specification & Maintenance Symposium was held at a small hotel on Sand Lake Road in Orlando, Florida. Eventually, the program moved to the Rosen Plaza Hotel on International Drive as the conference expanded.

In 1990, the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) was established as a subsidiary of the ISFSI, retaining the Apparatus Symposium. The symposium was specifically designed to focus on education and limited exhibits to tabletop displays. Topics covered a range, from preventive maintenance efforts to issues of liability and new safety standards.

Symposium programs were selected by Barraclough and other FAMA members, including Alan Saulsbury, Saulsbury Fire Apparatus; Dennis Litchenstine, C.E. Niehoff; and Gary Handwerk, who was with Hale at the time. For the first 15 years or so, Barraclough, Saulsbury, and Litchenstine were the programs’ moderators and encouraged attendees to ask questions of the presenters—manufacturers and end users. Litchenstine says, “It was my job to challenge [attendees] to participate. They had to ask questions, challenge presenters, and be involved.” He addd, “This was not a spectator event!”

Bill Foster, of Spartan Motors, was one of the first major sponsors of the conference. He comments that frequently the attendee participation put a lot of pressure on manufacturers to look at the problems in their products and make changes or improvements.

In 2013, the FDSOA headquarters moved from Massachusetts to Michigan. That same year, the Apparatus Symposium and the FDSOA’s annual Safety Forum were colocated, alternating between Orlando, Florida, and Scottsdale, Arizona, to serve the East and West Coasts.

The 30th FDSOA Apparatus Maintenance & Specification Symposium will feature keynote speakers Brad Pinsky, attorney and fire chief; Garry Briese, executive director, Colorado State Fire Chiefs; and Chief (Ret.) Bruce Varner. New this year will be an eight-hour, hands-on preconference program, “Fire Pump and Accessories with Proper Pump Testing,” offered by Brian Brown, South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR) Fleet Services Bureau, and Chris Dennis, chief mechanical officer, Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service, Ontario, Canada.

In addition, there will be a fast-paced, four-hour, preconference program, “Basics of Specification Writing,” by Tom Shand and Mike Wilbur of Emergency Vehicle Response.

Thirty years is a major accomplishment to sustain a very unique conference. Fire apparatus has changed significantly over the past 30 years and, most importantly, the focus is on safer apparatus for fire and EMS personnel. The FDSOA is proud to continue to support improvements and education in safety.

For more details about the 30th Annual Apparatus Symposium, visit

RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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