Trailers Hitch Up To NFPA Standards

Until a few years ago, there were very few trailers in the fire service. The most popular trailer vehicles were tiller-drawn apparatus. Today, trailers are turning up everywhere. For example, my department here in Charlotte, N.C.,  went from two or three trailers 10 years ago to over 40 trailers today.

There are several reasons to explain this increase. It is the specialization of the fire service to respond to all hazards and the need for additional scene support equipment. Combine this with the ability to obtain grant money, and the trailer manufacturers have found a new market.

Typically, trailers carry equipment not normally needed on the bread-and-butter incidents. They carry only what is needed on an occasional basis. Trailers are used for smoke houses, hazmat response equipment, boats, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), collapse rescue equipment and foam and foam delivery equipment.

Trailers can also be used for breathing air tanks and compressors, heavy construction equipment, command centers, trench rescue equipment, emergency medical service (EMS) mass casualty support supplies, canteens, rehabilitation, and other service delivery applications.

As of this writing, there have been no known firefighter fatalities from vehicle accidents involving fire department trailers (with the exception of tillered aerials). Unfortunately, there have been numerous property damage accidents.

As of now, there are no fire service or emergency service standards that trailers must meet. Realizing the growing popularity of trailers in the fire service, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Technical Committee on Fire Department Apparatus has taken a pro-active approach to help prevent trailer-related firefighter injuries and fatalities.

In January 2009, the new NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus will be effective and will have a chapter on trailers.

The standard will cover three classifications of trailers and regulate the following – carrying capacity, information labels and instruction plates, fluids and pressures, braking systems, suspension and wheels, hitches, safety chains and wheel chocks. The standard will also cover low-voltage electrical systems and warning devices, power supply, umbilical cables and connections, optical warning devices, work lighting, stop/tail/and directional lighting, electrical system performance tests and reflective markings.

Common Sense Things

Before we discuss the NFPA standard further, here are a few common sense things to keep in mind when adding trailers to your department. If you are going to have more than one trailer with a ball hitch attachment, make every attempt to use the same size ball. At a glance, they all look to be the same size, but there are three common sizes: 1-7/8-inch, 2-inch, and 2-5/16-inch. Simply by looking at them, it’s hard to determine one size from the other and on several occasions, a 2-inch hitch has been connected to a 1-7/8-inch ball. In this case, everything appears to be okay until there is a bump or dip in the road – and the outcome is predictable.

Make sure that anyone driving a vehicle with a trailer in tow has been trained and has experience in towing trailers. The understanding of stopping distances, following distances, turning radius, angle of departure/approach, defensive driving maneuvers and the overall length, width and height of the tow vehicle and trailer cannot be overemphasized. The mirrors on the tow vehicle must be wide enough for the driver to see along the sides of the trailer.

Now, let’s go back and take a brief overview of the upcoming NFPA standard. The requirements will be Chapter 26 of the standard. Trailers covered by the standard are those used for transporting equipment or other vehicles under emergency response conditions and are considered as fire apparatus.

Trailers will be classified as Type I, Type II, and Type III. Type I trailers include trailers used as fire apparatus such as hazmat or rescue vehicles that are designed as a tow vehicle-trailer combination rather than a straight truck. These trailers are designed to remain attached to the tow vehicle throughout an event.

Braking Systems

Type II trailers include trailers towed to the scene and then left at the scene while the tow vehicle performs other functions that could include bringing another trailer to the scene.

Type III trailers include boat trailer and construction equipment style trailers transporting bulldozers, tractor plows, and other motorized equipment.

All trailers with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 3,000 pounds or greater must have a braking system for each axle. The tow vehicle must have the necessary compatible means to activate the trailer braking system. The system must be designed to limit trailer movement in the event the hitching mechanism fails.

Four wheel chocks must be supplied with the trailer and each chock shall be capable of holding the loaded trailer on a 10 percent grade.

The trailer hitch must meet or exceed the GVWR of the trailer. For hitch systems that require safety chains, each chain and attaching mechanism must have the strength of no less than gross weight of the trailer.

For electrical requirements, the trailer manufacturer must provide the continuous electrical load required by the tow vehicle. Umbilical cords and connections must meet prescribed Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) requirements to standardize connections for interoperability.

Depending on the trailer type, the requirements for warning lights are consistent with the warning light requirements in NFPA 1901. In addition, there are requirements for reflective striping that are consistent with NFPA 1901. Work lighting must also be consistent with the apparatus standard.

If trailers are a part of your fleet or will become a part of your fleet, please don’t forget to include them in your routine maintenance. Trailers are often overlooked. Regular inspections should be made of all trailers, and special attention should be paid to tire condition, tire pressure, stop/tail/directional lighting, and braking systems.

Although the next revision of NFPA 1901 is not effective until January 2009, copies of the revision should be available in early this year.

Keep in mind, nothing precludes the use of the standard before the effective date.

Editor’s Note: Robert Tutterow, who has 30 years in the fire service, is the Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department health and safety officer. He is the chair of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Department Apparatus Committee’s Safety Task Force Group and is on two other NFPA committees, the Structural and Proximity Firefighting Protective Ensemble Technical Committee and the Technical Correlating Committee for Fire and Emergency Services PPE.

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