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What percentage of your fleet is equipped with safety technologies such as frontal or side airbags, roll stability control or other devices, and can you attribute any accident reductions by having these components on your apparatus?
DICKERSON: Currently, 20% of our fleet has (advanced) safety features and we are very happy with them and look forward to improving on the safety of our future purchases.
ESTER: Including our year-end deliveries, we’ll have nearly 30 apparatus with side airbags and roll stability. This will include engines, trucks and water tenders. I cannot definitively say that these devices have prevented accidents, but isn’t that the point?
We have utilized all-position disc brakes, engine compression brakes and electromagnetic driveline brakes on our engines and trucks for a number of years now, with very good results. Not only has brake life dramatically improved, but the proper use of secondary braking devices leaves your foundation brakes ready to give the best braking capability possible. This has undoubtedly attributed to accident reductions too.
McGRATH: We do not have any apparatus so equipped.
REEVES: Only a small percentage of the fleet – about 25% of our major apparatus groups – is equipped with any of the newest safety technology. That number will increase, of course, as more new apparatus is acquired. We will certainly include as much of this technology as the manufacturers offer – safety isn’t optional.
All of our newer small apparatus, such as EMS squads and chiefs’ cars, include a lot of the newest safety technology. We did have one major crash where a car T-boned one of our district chief’s Suburbans and the deployment of the front and side airbags was almost certainly a factor in preventing serious injury to our member.
The roll stability control is a great feature on the larger pieces – you can definitely feel it working, but don’t ask me how I know that! We are also starting to incorporate the “black box” data recorders into new apparatus as well, and a large part of the acceptance of this system is educating the firefighters as to how it can be used to defend their actions after an incident. Their part, of course, is to keep those actions defensible.
ROUTLEY: The apparatus that has been delivered was specified before many of the advanced safety systems were widely available. We will be including them in the next five-year (apparatus-replacement) program.
What improvements or changes in fire apparatus design would you like to see in the future and made more affordable for department’s to integrate into their apparatus?
DICKERSON: I would like to see regulators consider providing the fire service with an exemption to the requirements that make the regeneration necessary similar to what has been given to Department of Defense vehicles. Overall, the percentage of our vehicles as compared to the total number of diesel vehicles on the road and the importance of our mission and the need to be ready to respond at all times should be considered. Manufacturers, code committees and others involved in designing and building fire and rescue vehicles need to always look at this from the end-user’s perspective. It has to be practical to use or the firefighters will find a way around it!
ESTER: We are very fortunate to have fire apparatus in the City of San Diego that are safe and functional for our crews and effective in performing their mission. Our challenge seems to be standardization in an ever-changing industry. Operating a larger fleet, I’m not interested in chasing the “next great thing.” We find what works and try to stick with it, changing only when it makes sense and is of marked benefit to our mechanics or firefighters. That said, we are not afraid to say that something doesn’t work for us and move on.
While we currently build a very custom fire apparatus for our city, a more standardized approach to apparatus construction would benefit all of us with reduced costs and simplification. Manufacturers are building what we each are asking for – but we as the fire service need to agree that what works for you may work for me, and get some economies of scale working for us. We have way too many options today – and all of those options have a cost that we all pay for.