Apparatus Symposium: No Freak Accidents

The 2018 FDSOA Apparatus Specifications & Safety Symposium got rolling with a keynote by Brad Pinsky covering the legal aspects of apparatus design. Throughout the presentation, Pinsky questioned how the fire service can keep making the same mistakes. Incidents that kill firefighters are being described as “freak accidents,” but they aren’t really. Time after time and example after example—including firefighter LODDs resulting from backing incidents, firefighters falling from apparatus, and civilian deaths involving hose coming off the apparatus—Pinsky related that these are not “freak accidents.” Citing several examples, Pinsky revealed how the fire service has progressed. Sadly, most of the changes it has made have resulted from tragedy. Pinsky is a lawyer, and he asserted that people may hate lawsuits and lawyers, but many times these have resulted in positive change in how rigs are designed and protective measures to ensure what should be on the truck stays on the truck during response. The major takeaway from this keynote is that there are no freak accidents these days. We are accepting that repeated accidents occur, but we accept them until tragedy strikes.

Investigating Apparatus Crashes
Apparatus crashes are not on the decrease, and we are continuing to see them being hit while parked at the scene of an incident, many times in a blocking position. When these crashes occur, the fire department must do its own investigation, and Gordon Routley provided a basic framework for how to proceed with the investigation. Important to remember is that all parties must understand that for a safety investigation, the result is not disciplinary action. The idea is to gather facts and to identify problems that need to be corrected. The investigation needs to kick off immediately. Get time- and location-sensitive information. Take photos, and get initial statements ASAP. Talk to witnesses, take measurements, determine if seat belts were worn, and try to get as many photos from witnesses as possible. After, peruse YouTube and Twitter to see what has been shared from the incident.

After this initial phase, move into getting VDR data, mechanical and maintenance records, incident and response records, driver training records, etc. Conduct follow-up investigations, consult experts, and seek additional evidence.

Critical to the investigation is ensuring the security of the rig once it is removed from the scene to protect from tampering.

Responder to Vehicle Systems
We’ve often talked about how fire apparatus are getting smarter. Cory Hohs, of HAAS Alert, provided a background on emerging technology that will allow apparatus to communicate with the civilian vehicles they encounter. Responder-to-vehicle systems are available now. Responder-to-responder systems are in the offing. Hohs described how these systems work and how they will also integrate with smart city systems as well. He also made a few recommendations:

  • Smart Cities’ biggest beneficiary is public safety.
  • Check now with your cities for line items regarding public safety.
  • Make sure when you sign contracts that you have access to your data.
  • Alerting systems will work with multiplexed and traditional hard-wired systems.

Hohs indicated that his ultimate goal is to stop the approximately 60,000 accidents that occur with emergency vehicles. The whole point is to be preemptive.

Ed. Note: These systems have a real chance to gain traction in the fire service. During a panel session at the symposium, I asked the panelists what they were suggesting or building into fire apparatus to help prevent collisions with parked fire apparatus. The consensus was that there is no easy solution because it appears to be more of a distracted driver problem. Systems that allow fire apparatus to communicate with civilian vehicles in ways other than lights and sirens stand to be a very viable solution as automakers build cars and trucks that will receive the rigs’ messages.—Chris Mc Loone

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