Survey Seeks Firefighters’ Measurements In Gear

If you are a firefighter, Roger Lackore wants your measurements – with your bunker gear on, thank you.

Lackore, the director of research and development for Pierce Manufacturing, is directing a study to provide data for the design of fire apparatus seat belts and seats with the goal of saving lives by increasing use of the belts.

He was hoping to have the study completed by this year’s Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC), but is short of his goal of 1,023 subjects. As of last month, he only had measurements for about 550 firefighters, and he said he needs to reach the 1,023 target for the study to be statistically significant. He is willing to explain the math behind that number for those who are interested.

While he has not yet reached the result he wants, he has assembled what some people consider a decent set of data.

Firefighters Are Bigger

“It’s confirming a lot of what we thought,” said J. Gordon Routely, a retired fire chief who is working with Lackore on the study. “Firefighters are bigger than we’ve been making allowance for in fire apparatus.”

The impetus for the study came from a meeting at last year’s FDIC that brought together representatives of a number of fire service and manufacturer organizations. The key organizers were Routely, a member of the Safety, Health and Survival Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs who is the liaison between that group and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), and Fire Department of New York Lt. Mike Wilbur of Ladder 27, who works with the NFFF.

Routely and Wilbur have their own consulting businesses and are friends, and Routely said the idea for the meeting “just came out of us comparing notes.”

Fasten Seat Belts

Vehicle-related accidents are the second leading cause of firefighter fatalities in the line of duty, and that statistic has generated a national push for firefighters to fasten their seat belts. Despite policies and laws requiring the use of seat belts, Routely said less than 50 percent of firefighters fasten their belts while riding in apparatus. One of the reasons, he said, is that seats and seat belt configurations in many apparatus make it difficult for firefighters to buckle up.

That was the message delivered at the FDIC meeting in April 2006.

“Mike [Wilbur] made a presentation showing the difficulty that certain firefighters have in getting their seat belts on in certain configurations in cabs and certain seating locations,” Lackore recalled. “He sort of put the challenge up… you [manufacturers] need to be aware of the firefighters and how they are, and you need to make it real easy for them to put on their seat belts.”

Lackore said he took Wilbur’s challenge as an issue that required action: “I said, ‘Guys, from a design standpoint it would really be good if we knew what we were designing around. So I would like us to collect some data. Let’s find out how big firefighters are.'”

The data available to designers is generally used by automotive and truck designers, he said, and it is fairly old and does not include subjects in bunker gear.

“The population is getting fatter and taller,” he said. “I left that meeting with a personal desire to bring some information, to bring some data, to the table. So, I went off and created a method for measuring firefighters in bunker gear.”

He developed a set of instructions for fire department officials to take measurements of their firefighters with a handful of simple tools – a level, a bathroom scale, a carpenter’s tape measure, a cloth-style tailor’s tape measure, two carpenter’s squares and a seat between 16 and 18 inches high.

His undertaking is called the Firefighter Anthropometric Study, and the instructions explain it is being conducted on behalf of the NFFF and the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA), which wants to obtain “better information about the size, shape, weight and reach of firefighters wearing bunker gear.”

Firefighters participating in the study are asked to put on the bunker gear they “would normally wear when riding in the cab,” including “any typical accessory gear (flashlights, knives, radios, etc.) that would add bulk.”

The instructions ask for 34 different measurements “to the nearest quarter inch” and provide detailed directions with photos and a chart for recording the results. “This information will help us design products better configured to fit today’s firefighters,” the instructions read. “The data you will record in this study will be combined with data from other respondents and summarized in a white paper that will be published on the FAMA Web site when complete.”

Lackore estimated obtaining a set of measurements from one firefighter would take five to ten minutes. The initial reaction from firefighters was, “Oh yeah, we can get those, no problem,” he said, but the task turned out to be more difficult than expected “because everyone is busy.”

By January, he said he had measurements from over 400 firefighters, and an appeal to those who attended the Fire Department Safety Officers Association apparatus symposium in Orlando in January produced some more.

“A lot of people gave me business cards, and I sent them instructions,” Lackore said in March. “I’m up to 545 subjects.”

He said the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control, has an ambitious scientific study proposed that would go farther than his, but it has not been funded or approved.

The NIOSH proposal, he said, targets 1,300 subjects using conventional anthropometric measurement methods similar to his and then 700 subjects who would have body scans.

The proposal would follow up with workspace studies, he said, mocking up the driver’s seat and steering wheel and getting data that would be useful in cab and chassis design.

“So our study is not the end all,” Lackore said. “It’s the best we can do with a bunch of volunteers and [it provides] some information that we can start working with quickly.”

Any fire officials willing to participate in the study by taking measurements should contact Lackore at 920-832-3249 or Routely at 514-428-1645.

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