The Apparatus Architect series first appeared in the August 2000 edition of Firehouse® Magazine with the ambition that the material presented would "enhance a fire department's ability to obtain properly designed and functional apparatus." Some 10 years later, we still find ourselves...
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The Apparatus Architect series first appeared in the August 2000 edition of Firehouse® Magazine with the ambition that the material presented would "enhance a fire department's ability to obtain properly designed and functional apparatus." Some 10 years later, we still find ourselves engaged with providing practical information and examples of well-designed apparatus that can be shared with all departments, regardless of the size of their apparatus fleets. In this installment of The Apparatus Architect, we discuss some practical aspects of apparatus safety that should be considered on all new units.
Most types of apparatus, whether engine or ladder company units, will at some point require members to climb up onto the vehicle to perform firefighting duties, rack hose or conduct maintenance work on the apparatus or equipment. Data collected and analyzed by the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reveals that 34% of all accidents on the fireground involve sprains and strains to operating personnel. While the majority of these types of injuries occur while operating at structural fires, a surprising 38% took place outside of the structure. Age in itself was not a strong determinant factor, as a higher number of volunteer personnel who were injured were ages 20 to 24, whereas the highest incidence of injuries to career members was from 35 to 39 years of age.
When operating with our apparatus, we should make every effort to train our personnel to adhere to safety procedures to ensure that "Everyone Goes Home." This includes some basic tasks, including use of riding assignments, use of seatbelts, and how to climb on and off the apparatus at various points. At one time or another, we have probably all witnessed unsafe acts on the fireground that would cause us to think about our own personal safety. Some of the most basic safety procedures are often disregarded, which results in needless lost-time injuries. With this in mind, this article will focus on several areas where properly engineered components can improve the level of safety on your apparatus.
Climbing on and off apparatus can be challenging, especially when wearing all of our personal protective equipment (PPE) and carrying other tools and gear. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, has done a good job of addressing stepping and standing surfaces, including the required slip resistance for these areas. Areas such as cab entrance steps, pump-panel access and rear step areas must also be illuminated and provided with non-slip handrails to provide three points of contact that can be maintained at all times. Despite these safety standards, we still have personnel injuries when operating on apparatus.
Section 15.7 of NFPA 1901 specifically addresses fixed or folding stepping surfaces as follows: "All steps shall have a minimum area of 35 square inches, shall be of such a shape that a five-inch diameter disc does not overlap any side when placed on the step, and shall be arranged to provide at least eight inches of clearance between the leading edge of the step and any obstruction." These requirements provide an excellent guideline for the design of the stepping surface. It's where we install them on our apparatus that can lead to trouble.
Engine company apparatus traditionally incorporated the use of folding steps where they would be installed at the forward end of the body next to the pump panel. In the days when hard suction hose was carried above the compartments on the driver's side with ground ladders carried on the right side, the installation of these steps made sense. A single step located on each side of the body could provide rapid access to this equipment or to reach booster reel equipment mounted over the fire pump.