The New Year, Positive Outcomes & Seatbelts

Fire Service Makes Progress to Protect Its Most Valuable Resource

Recently, there have been a series of apparatus rollovers - and there is good news to report. What, you may ask, is good about an apparatus rollover? The answer: a large majority of firefighters and officers involved in the accidents were wearing their seatbelts. So, rather than going to more funerals, we can start the new year off on a positive note. The work done by so many in this business advocating the use of seatbelts by emergency responders is finally paying off.

We continue to follow an apparatus rollover that occurred in Massachusetts, where a 21-year-old firefighter who was taking the apparatus out on a road test lost control and rolled the vehicle over, with minor injuries. As we go to press, the driver has been charged with several offenses, including reckless driving, and it was just learned that he also will be charged with operating the apparatus under the influence. We would ask for prayers for the fire chief, the driver and the rest of the fire department as they navigate these rough waters.

I receive many questions about apparatus over the course of a month. While I was conducting a seminar in New England, I had an opportunity to meet a deputy fire chief who asked me one of "those questions." In this case, the question that he asked has been asked by many: My fire department has purchased a commercial pumper and the seatbelts will not fit around my bunker-clad firefighters. What do we do?

I answered the deputy chief by recommending that he contact the apparatus manufacturer or the manufacturer's dealer that sold the truck and ask for longer female stalks for the fixed seatbelt end. Many people in the fire service confuse seatbelt extenders and longer female stalks. Many of us who have flown at one time or another have been seated near a large person who has had to ask for a seatbelt extender, which is like an adapter that bridges the gap of the female seatbelt end and the male end. Seatbelt extenders have not been offered in fire apparatus due to the liability and crash dynamics. A longer female seatbelt stalk (see photo 1) comes out farther from the back of the seat to accommodate firefighters in bunker gear. The deputy chief called the manufacturer about the problem, which the manufacturer fixed almost immediately. When I arrived in town for the seminar, the deputy chief could not wait to show me the results of his inquiry and subsequent fix. Up to this point, it has been all positive.

The deputy chief showed me the apparatus and, as he said, the female seatbelt stalks had been replaced with longer stalks to accommodate bunker-clad firefighters. Upon further inspection of the crew cab of this commercial pumper, I found that the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) seats closest to the apparatus doors had three-point seatbelt harnesses, yet the middle SCBA seat had just a lap belt (see photo 2). As I looked further, it became obvious why the manufacturer did not put a three-point seatbelt in the center seat - the commercial chassis was equipped with a rear window, so in this case, there was nowhere to anchor the seatbelt on the top of the cab because of the window.

Seatbelts that are integrated into SCBA seats are a relatively new idea, so perhaps they were not available when this apparatus was built or perhaps it was not part of the specification (certainly, the firefighter riding in the center seat is just as valuable as the firefighters who sit next to the exit doors of the cab). Automobiles have had three-point seatbelt harnesses built for center seat for a long time, so we should demand no less for the nation's firefighters. This is another example of buyer beware and you may want to get someone with some technical knowledge to help you design your next apparatus.

From my family to yours may you have the happiest, healthiest and safest New Year.

MICHAEL WILBUR, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a lieutenant in the New York City Fire Department, assigned to Ladder Company 27 in the Bronx, and has served on the FDNY Apparatus Purchasing Committee. He consults on a variety of apparatus-related issues around the country. For further information, access his website at