By John B. Tippett Jr.
Published Sunday, April 15, 2012
| From the June 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Safety innovations in fire apparatus have taken great leaps forward in the last decade. And we are entering a new generation that promises to address the seatbelt length and comfort issues associated with riding with and without PPE. Other apparatus innovations include:
- Anti-lock brakes
- Rollover protection
- Reinforced cabs
- Pressure switches that prevent start-up unless all members are seated and belted
- Warning lights
- Improved visibility
- Positive latching devices that resist forces of up to 9 Gs
Each innovation has one goal: Improve firefighter survivability. These innovations are neither standalone nor without the need for routine inspection, testing and maintenance. Further, the maintenance task list is designed to provide engineered redundancy in the safety system so firefighters have confidence in the innovation’s promise of protection, as well as the peace of mind that all systems are operating as intended. After all, we’ll never know when the systems will be needed.
Report Excerpt #07-1113
“The fire engine in which I was riding officer was involved in a collision. A four-door compact car ran a stop sign in front of us, and we hit the car in the rear passenger door on the driver’s side. Both my driver and I were uninjured. We both had seatbelts on and were returning to our station after a car fire. My driver did everything he should have to avoid collision, and swerving wasn’t an option at this intersection. We were traveling at about 45 mph in a 60-mph, double-lane, divided highway. The engine has anti-lock air brakes and no airbags. We probably would have sustained injuries had we not been belted in. The equipment mounts in the cab also stayed intact and did their job.”
Industry innovations are introduced in response to user input as well as standards’ mandates and regulations—and all are designed to improve performance and safety. However, the latest innovations can take up to a decade or more to reach fire departments at the end of the funding stream. Even departments that are well-funded can’t afford all of the latest and greatest.
So what can be done to maximize the 10-year-old piece of equipment that was considered state- of-the-art in 2002 but has been surpassed at least twice since it was purchased? The answer: The equipment must be checked regularly and tested frequently to ensure that a) it’s working as engineered and b) it has been kept up to the manufacturer’s specifications.
The seatbelt is a good example. Used each time the rig heads out of the station—and no rig should move without them being fastened—this simple device puts us one step closer to returning home at the end of each ride. So we need to take care of it! Seatbelts can be caught in the apparatus door or damaged in other ways, so we must inspect seatbelts daily to ensure that the retractor and tensioner are working properly. Replace them when they are worn or cut. We should also conduct a comprehensive check of other mechanical systems that oppose the forces of a body in motion (e.g., braking and similar restraint systems) on a daily basis.
Prevention & Closing
Near-Miss Report #07-1113 confirms that anything can happen at any time. This incident occurred while firefighters were returning from a run, meaning they were not under the duress of an emergent response—and something still went wrong. This underscores that we can’t take shortcuts at any step in our processes, particularly those that are put in place to ensure our safety.
- Keep your apparatus in first-class operating condition.
- Wear your seatbelt.
- Ensure that loose equipment is secured, especially in apparatus cabs.
- Replace equipment on a schedule to maximize the impact of innovation.
The bottom line: Your life depends on an apparatus maintenance program that ensures all safety features are working properly. Be safe!
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