As we go to press a fire truck in Kentucky fell through a bridge. Two firefighters were injured while responding to an abandon house fire when the Engine that they were in fell into a creek when the bridge that they tried to cross collapsed. Recently a tractor drawn aerial ladder also referred to as a TDA or a tiller was in an accident in Philadelphia. The tiller enclosure was nearly knocked off when they went under an underpass that the entire truck made it through with the exception of the tiller enclosure. Both apparatus appeared to have been built prior to the NFPA 1901 standard revision in 2009. That standard requires that visible to the driver should be a plate or label that lists the fire apparatus overall length, overall height and weight of the apparatus fully loaded. The premise behind the information was to give the driver vital information needed before negotiating bridges, underpasses and other potential obstacles and promote safe operation. Although older apparatus are not required by the standard to be retro-fitted perhaps it would be a good idea for fire departments to measure and weigh the apparatus and provide this information to their drivers to prevent accidents in the future.
Since my last column we have weighed 38 fire trucks during fleet evaluations and a majority of those trucks were overweight. Interesting to note that one of those trucks was brand new and was overweight by 400 pounds when it left the factory for delivery. The apparatus did not have any of the two thousand pounds of equipment on it that the unit was engineered for nor did it have any firefighters in it which would account for an additional 1250 pounds as it had five seating positions. This apparatus has the potential to be at least 3650 pounds overweight. There have been several other incidents involving fire apparatus with tire failures, axles snapping, reported brake problems and mechanical issues. One would have to wonder with the fire apparatus obesity problems that we have uncovered how many of the aforementioned incidents had they been properly and full investigated would have concluded overweight apparatus as being the root cause? The standard is clear NFPA 1911 the Maintenance standard section 16.2.3 states that all fire apparatus must be weighed annually with records kept.
There are some fire departments and some fire department members in leadership positons that chose to ignore, or disregard the NFPA Standards and they do that at great personal and organizational peril. On September 15, 2001 four days after our world changed forever on 9-11-01 an assistant chief in Lairdsville New York took his company to an acquired structure for a fire department training session and proceeded to break and or disregard most of the rules outlined in the NFPA Live Burn Standard 1403. As a result of that training session one firefighter was killed two were seriously injured and the fire chief ended up in jail. What makes this noteworthy is that for years the NFPA standards were used in civil courts for firefighters to sue firefighters or for civilians to sue firefighters up until September 15, 2001 the NFPA standards had never been used in a criminal proceeding to put one of us in jail. But that is exactly what occurred the assistant chief served some jail time in conjunction with that fatal fire. As it relates to Emergency Vehicle Operations the following NFPA standards are the ones that are wholly or in part applicable to the driving task. NFPA 1901 The Automotive Standard, NFPA 1911 The Maintenance Standard, NFPA 1002 The National Driving Qualification Standard, NFPA 1451 A Risk Management Program for Emergency Vehicle Operations and some sections of NFPA 1500 Health and Safety Standard. A word to the wise if you are in a fire department leadership positon (Fire Chief, Company Officer, Fire Commissioner, Director) I would get intimately familiar as you may be held both civilly and criminally responsible for the NFPA Standards.
It is that time of year where there are several noteworthy driving issues to address. First those animals in the deer family (white tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose) in the fall go into rut. During this mating time they will be more active and are more likely to be in or crossing the road. Please be vigilant and be careful.
As the leaves fall off the trees onto the roadways and become wet they are as slippery as ice. They become extremely hazardous as we try to brake and corner the apparatus especially when the apparatus is a tender/tanker apparatus.
As the warn breezes of summer transition into the cold winds of winter fog becomes a more common occurrence that can wreak havoc on the roadways and drastically increase response times. Apparatus positioning on scene is critical during periods of fog and low visibility as we try to provide a safe work environment for our firefighters and first responders working that scene. Please go to www.respondersafety.com for more information on positioning and scene safety.
Finally as we settle into winter we will again have to deal with ice and snow. If long range weather planners are correct this winter will have above average cold and snow fall for most of the country. Now is the time to prepare for winter operations and winter driving. Do you have chains for the apparatus? Does anyone know how to put them on? Have you trained your drivers on driving with chains, much different than normal driving? Do you have rock salt and do you carry it on the apparatus? It is a good idea. Shovels in case you get stuck. Have you trained drivers to drive apparatus in the snow? Don’t put additional pressure on your drivers by making their first snow driving experience a code three response experience.
This column could be / should be the subject of a company drill period as we enter into this difficult driving period.
Emergency Vehicle Operators Column