By John B. Tippett Jr.
Published Thursday, March 1, 2012
| From the March 2012 Issue of FireRescue
The fire department tanker is the workhorse for rural water supply operations. Some departments buy custom-built vehicles from reliable fire apparatus manufacturers. Other departments, strapped for funds, obtain surplus military vehicles or discarded tankers from local companies and build their own vehicle, sometimes using MC306 non-pressure liquid tank trailers.
There are four indicators of the near-miss/mishap potential when operating a tanker: 1) the wide variety of vehicles used for fire department tankers; 2) the lack of frequency with which these vehicles are called into service (low use leads to poor maintenance and rusty handling and operating); 3)the assumptions made by the tankers’ drivers (e.g., we have to get there fast; it handles like the department’s Class A pumper); and 4) the nature of the roads that the fire department tanker has to navigate (e.g., the roads are often narrow with soft shoulders and are not built to carry heavy, wide vehicles).
Three report excerpts from www.firefighternearmiss.com illustrate these indicators.
“During driver training on our department’s tanker, the front driver’s side tire experienced a blowout. The tanker, with 2,500 gallons of water and seating for eight, was being driven on a limited access highway at the posted speed limit of 65 mph. The tanker immediately veered into the adjacent northbound lanes by about four or five feet. The driver immediately released the accelerator, regained steering control and began pulling the tanker to the right breakdown lane/shoulder.”
“While driving, I felt the right-side tires leave the pavement. This caused the tanker to jerk a bit to the right. When I tried to correct my path of travel by steering to the left, the tanker shot quickly across the road. My last action was to try to steer the tanker back to the right. At that point, the tanker began to roll toward the driver side.”
“While decelerating on a hill and in preparation of making a right-hand turn, the tanker operator did not reduce the apparatus speed to safely make the turn. The water in the baffled tank of this 2,000-gallon tanker shifted to the point that the vehicle became uncontrollable, lifting two wheels off the roadway. This lack of control and surface contact resulted in a shift in the center of gravity of the vehicle, causing a rollover.”
Preparation: Tanker Ops
Given its unique construction, the tanker requires an in-depth and comprehensive training program, as well as constant handling to reduce the potential for near misses and mishaps. Driver/operator candidates and incumbent drivers should, at a minimum, be well versed in the tanker’s specs: height, weight (full and empty), overall length, overall width, tank baffling, etc.; understand the physics of moving water (in the tank) and how that motion affects handling; spend at least 12–15 hours driving the tanker on a closed course before being allowed to take the rig on the road; drive the tanker at least monthly to keep skills at a proficient level; and be trained to immediately recognize maintenance defects, and be empowered to take the rig out of service for any braking/handling issues noted.
Resources & Closing
The USFA and NIOSH have produced reports that should be mandatory reading. The USFA report, FA-248: Safe Operation of Fire Department Tankers, includes comprehensive recommendations for driver training, safe operations and an appendix of tanker mishap case studies. The NIOSH Workplace Solutions report, Preventing Death and Injuries of Firefighters Operating Modified Excess/Surplus Vehicles, focuses on the hazards of using surplus/converted vehicles.
USFA report FA-248: Safe Operation of Fire Department Tankers can be downloaded from www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa-248.pdf.
NIOSH Workplace Solutions report Preventing Death and Injuries of Firefighters Operating Modified Excess/Surplus Vehicles can be downloaded from www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2011-125/pdfs/2011-125.pdf.
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