Apparatus guru and veteran FDNY firefighter Mike Wilbur has focused his efforts on seat belt safety for years and at the annual FDSOA Symposium in Orlando, Fla. this week spoke about how he recently got his employer on board.
In June of last year, Wilbur received a call from one of his bosses at the FDNY. He said, "We need to talk to you about seat belts.
Wilbur was taken by surprise and initially thought that an apparatus crash has occurred with a firefighter ejected, but soon found out that the department was ready to take a proactive approach on the problem.
Newly appointed Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano was only months into his tenure and had made it a point that he didn't want a firefighter death to occur on his watch that could have been prevented by the use of a seat belt.
Wilbur told his boss that the main problem the FDNY had was that close to 90 percent of the seat belts in the city's fleet didn't work. He recommended the department have its manufacturer come in to assess the situation and from there, he said, the project just took off.
Seat belt manufacturer IMMI came to the city in August in order to assess the problem and ultimately assist in retrofitting the department's entire fleet with new seat belts.
"I thought I knew a lot about seat belts," Wilbur said. "But these guys taught me a lot."
The team confronted some initial problems as they began to inspect the fleet. On 46 Engine and 27 Truck they could only retrofit three out of the six seats as some had the belts built directly into the seats. Wilbur said this proved to be a challenge, but that it was something they had to work around.
"We can't let perfect get in the way of good," he said.
The team used a "ready reach" approach to the placement of the belts so that firefighters could better access them. Instead of placing the belt behind the seat, it sits outside the seat.
"This new belt has become a very big part of what we are doing," he said. "In many regards, it looks like a traditional seat belt," he said. "What differs is the retractor, which was developed with a heavy-duty spring."
The new belt is bright orange, which provides better visibility.
"Even though red absorbs dirt better, we're not going for pretty here," he said.
Along with the belts, they also retrofitted the female end so that it also is easily accessible.
The team began installing the next round of belts in October and Wilbur said he is very optimistic about the progress so far.
"We're very close to getting the belts where they need to be," he said.
In February, IMMI will test another set of the seat belts and Wilbur hopes the FDNY can begin to retrofit its entire fleet by the middle of this year.