Fire fighters may be at risk for crash-related injuries while operating military surplus vehicles that have been modified for fire service use. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has summarized recommendations to prevent injuries and deaths while operating these vehicles.
NIOSH recommends that all fire departments operating fire apparatus equipped with automatic slack adjusters (ASAs) immediately take the following actions to reduce the risk of fire fighters being injured in an apparatus crash due to brake failure:
- Ensure that ASAs are not manually adjusted.
- Establish procedures to ensure maintenance on fire apparatus is conducted as recommended in NFPA 1911Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus.
- Ensure maintenance is only performed by qualified technicians who meet NFPA 1071 Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications.
An automatic slack adjuster is a mechanical component of the air brake system that adjust brakes as necessary when the vehicle is in operation to compensate for wear in the brake shoes (drum brakes) or pads (disc brakes). When an ASA is found to be out of adjustment, it signifies the existence of a larger braking system problem that needs correction. Manual adjustment of ASAs should only be done by qualified technicians during installation or when absolutely necessary to move the apparatus to a repair facility (NTSB 2006, 2007; IAFC 2006).
Top Photo. Automatic Slack Adjuster.
Photo, right. Automatic Slack Adjuster as a component of the
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In 2006, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) warned the fire service of this potential problem (IAFC 2006) following an investigative report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB 2006). While conducting an investigation of a recent apparatus crash-related fire fighter fatality, NIOSH learned that fire departments may not fully appreciate the hazards related to manual adjustment of ASAs. NIOSH would like to renew efforts to bring this to the attention of all U.S. fire departments, fire fighters, and fleet maintenance departments who are tasked with preventive maintenance or operation of apparatus equipped with ASAs. The manual adjustment of ASAs may contribute to unexpected brake failure on fire apparatus. When an ASA is found to be out of adjustment it signifies the existence of a larger problem with the braking system that needs to be corrected immediately. Vehicles found to have ASAs that are out of adjustment should be taken out-of-service immediately until corrective brake service is completed.
Fire Departments should ensure that all technicians conducting brake service on fire department apparatus: (1) are certified in air brake repair to the level (T-4) required by the Automotive Service Excellence Medium/Heavy Duty Truck Technician Certification and (2) have, at a minimum, Level 1 Fire Apparatus Technician Certification as certified by the Emergency Vehicle Technician Certification Commission. Additionally, fire departments should adhere to manufacturer guidelines and recommendations and applicable federal, state or provincial, and local laws regarding apparatus inspection and maintenance [NFPA1911].
Further, the NTSB has recommended, and NIOSH agrees, that all drivers of fire apparatus equipped with air brakes must undergo training and testing to demonstrate proficiency in the inspection and operation of air-braked vehicles. Such training should emphasize that manual adjustment of automatic slack adjusters is dangerous and should not be done, except during installation, or in an emergency situation when it is absolutely necessary to move the vehicle to a repair facility.
Volunteer firefighters in one area are so outraged over unsafe equipment that about twenty of them have quit, including the fire chief.
The New London Fire Volunteer firefighters met with its board members Monday night hoping for some changes. They say they are forced to work with old fire trucks that do not work properly.
The department’s fire chief quit as well. Jason Lane says he’s been requesting the purchase of a new fire truck for months. He accuses the fire board of running the fire department irresponsibly.
Former firefighter Shane St. John said, “You have to crank this truck in gear. The clutch and transmission are messed up. Everybody is scared to drive these trucks because somebody is going to get hurt. We are not asking for a new truck it could be used truck.”
Water, Fire and Sewer Board Chairman Archie Lee says the department is in good shape financially, but he says the four fire trucks have passed state inspections so there is no need to purchase any new trucks right now.
Lee said, “I thought we were being fair. We told them we would buy another truck just give us a little time.”
But the firefighters have had enough. They say not only are the trucks unsafe, but they could eventually led to loss of property and lives.
“These trucks are not safe. It takes fifteen minutes for pressure to build in one. You don’t have fifteen minutes in a fire,” said another former firefighter.
We have often commented that backing accidents are almost always preventable and happen with frightening regularity. Not many months go by without reading or hearing about yet another firefighter that was seriously injured or killed when another firefighter backed over them. This month is no different as a 45-year-old FF/EMT is in stable condition with fractures after a fire department member accidentally backed over her with a medium duty rescue truck. A firefighter walking along the side of the road in a spotter position next to the apparatus as it was backing up was stuck and injured. The truck struck the firefighter at a low rate of speed and partially ran over her. Both the apparatus and the injured firefighter were operating at an EMS incident. The injured firefighter was transported to a local hospital before being airlifted to a trauma center were a nurse there confirmed that the firefighter was in stable condition with a fractured tailbone and possibly a fractured pelvis, and that they were running more tests.
I have been blessed and have been invited to teach and educate in many fire departments in many communities, in many different states across our great country. Within this experience I have been exposed to any number of firefighters, fire apparatus, procedures and technologies. On one recent trip I was exposed to a backup system different from any that I had ever seen used before. We go now to Johnson County, Kansas where I found Consolidated Fire District Truck 21 which was equipped with wired headsets with a receptacle at the rear of the apparatus (Photo 1). This system enables the backer to have visual and voice communication with the apparatus operator (Photo 2). Note that the operator even with voice contact is still intently watching the minors hence watching the spotter which is really important to do. This is especially important with an apparatus such as large a mid-mounted tower ladder and a very tight spot in a condo parking lot (Photo 3). This system certainly makes operating in such tight quarters much safer and far less likely to have an accident. It seems to me as I watched this take place that the headsets really solidify the team concept and really directed the attention of the backer and the operator to the task at hand and prevent distractions.
This was the first time that I had experienced backing the apparatus with the aid of radio headset communications, however one of the class participants said “you haven’t seen nothing yet”. “I will take pictures of a wireless communication system and send them to you,” which he did (Photo 4). I tend to like this system even better as the spotter can be further back away from the apparatus and further to the side of the apparatus making backing over the spotter far less likely. Take note of the position of the head and eyes of the operator of this apparatus equipped with bus mirrors where the operator appears to be looking more ahead rather than to the side as with the other operator with conventional West Coast fire truck mirrors (Photo 5). But with that said the same high level of attention and concentration appears to be just as present here with this operator as it was with the previous operator. I would like to thank Jeff DeBell CFD, Captain Brad Davis and crew, from Johnson County (KS) Fire District 2, Spring Hill station 84 for pictures 4 and 5.
As the warm Fall days will soon turn into cold winter nights November is a transition month in many areas of the country where there will be many days and nights shrouded in fog with very limited visibility or in some cases no visibility at all. Also leaves will be falling from the trees in the rain creating roadways that will be extremely slippery and would rival any ice coated road that will occur later in the winter season. Finally this is also the season where many male animals including the white tail deer in my neck of the woods will be going into rut, aka getting horny, chasing females animals some unfortunately will wind up on roadways perhaps in your path. Please drive with a heighten state of awareness for all of these hazards as November tends to be one of the toughest, most dangerous months to drive.
Finally due to some technical difficulties the article promised on the seatbelt imitative had to be postponed but will appear in this column in early 2011. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Next month we will tackle winter driving tips and strategies.
Firehouse Magazine November 2010
By Michael Wilbur
After a year, 2009 where we saw a dramatic decrease in Line of Duty Deaths we now come to July 2010 where we find ourselves asking “Are we still really not getting it, that seatbelts really do save lives, yes even firefighters lives? July saw many significant vehicle crashes that resulted in at least three line of duty deaths, a firefighter that at this writing is still suffering from serious injuries along with a civilian seriously injured and the death of an unrestrained civilian all involved in the same crash.
First in Pennsylvania a firefighter in his POV pickup truck was ejected and killed while responding to a fatal head on collision between two civilian vehicles. Details are that the firefighter hit a guardrail and then over steered, causing the pickup truck to travel sideways across two southbound lanes of traffic and up onto another guardrail. After riding the guardrail the truck rolled over landing up right in the southbound lanes about 300 yards from the original crash he was responding to. This firefighter was not wearing his seatbelt, was ejected and found 15 feet away from his vehicle.
In Ohio a few days later A firefighter was traveling in his personal vehicle while responding to a mutual aid bowling alley fire when a civilian driver stopped at a stop sign then pulled in front of the firefighters POV and than the civilian vehicle attempted to make a quick turn where the firefighters vehicle struck the rear of the civilian auto and the firefighters vehicle ended up into a tree. The firefighter was not wearing a seatbelt however the vehicle’s airbags did deploy on his 2004 GMC pickup truck. He suffered severe incapacitating injuries and is listed in critical condition. It is unknown at this time whether the driver of the civilian vehicle was wearing a seatbelt or not but it is known that for whatever reason the civilian vehicles air bag system did not deploy. However a passenger in that civilian did not have a seatbelt on and was ejected and killed.
In Virginia two firefighters were killed when their fire apparatus while responding to a house fire crashed into an SUV, flipped over several times and landed on a car at an intersection. It is believed that the fire apparatus had the red light and swerved to avoid the SUV and rollover three times. One firefighter was actually ejected and then had the apparatus land on top of him and was crushed by the apparatus; neither of the firefighters were wearing seatbelts and both were killed in the line of duty. It turns out that the call was actually for a working house fire that the fire apparatus never arrived to and the driver of the apparatus was the fire chief and the towns vice mayor. To all of the families and the fire departments involved we send our sincerest condolences. For the rest of us we urge you to please wear your seatbelts!!
Also a Pennsylvania firefighter has been charged in a crash that happened in early July when he lost control of his fire apparatus with a beer in his hand, you cannot make this stuff up and rolled the Mack tanker with a blood alcohol content of 0.16. A passenger riding in the apparatus at the time of the crash said the driver had purchased a 30-pack of beer from a local beer distributor, before heading back to the fire station and another fire apparatus driver told police that he saw the driver of the Mack apparatus driving with a can of beer in his hands. The driver is being charged with DUI, drinking while under age and reckless driving among other related offenses.
Yet another Pennsylvania firefighter was charge when he was driving 75 mph and passing other vehicles with his emergency lights flashing when his private vehicle struck a motorcyclist head-on killing the motorcycle operator. Police say that there was no emergency at the time and they have charged the firefighter with homicide by vehicle, involuntary manslaughter, and other crimes resulting from the crash last August 9th.
Finally in another incident a firefighter standing on an aerial ladder looking for hot ambers from a fireworks display had bones in both feet broken when the aerial ladder was somehow retracted!!!!!
Most if not all of these incidents were absolutely totally preventable if we would follow safe accepted practices that we have been preaching in this column for years. Aerial Ladders are to climb on and access places not hang out if you need an observation platform then call or buy a tower ladder that is what they are built for. Come to a complete stop at all stop signs, red lights, red flashing lights or yield signs. Do not engage in any fire department activities or responses with any drugs or alcohol in your system period. Do not be a response vehicle when it is unnecessary to do so. Finally wear all of the safety equipment that is provided for you especially seatbelts.
One complaint that I receive frequently from fire chief’s I have a mandatory seatbelt policy and they still will not buckle up? Then chief stop giving them permission to stand up and get dress in the cabs by purchasing raised cab roofs on your fire apparatus cuzz chief whether you want to admit it or not by you buying raised cab roofs on your apparatus you have subliminally given your permission to ride around and get dressed without seatbelts.
Next month in this column we will have a guest columnist that will make a huge announcement as it relates to seatbelts in the New York City Fire Department.
Finally as we go to press we have been advised that two firefighters in Canada were killed in the line of duty when they were returning from wild land firefighting duty lost control of their apparatus, it rolled over and it appears that they were not wearing seatbelts.
By Michael Wilbur