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The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus has undergone a revision cycle offering changes that will affect contracts signed on or after Jan. 1, 2009, for the purchase of new fire apparatus. Many of these changes are going to affect the way that we drive and operate fire apparatus. The changes include, but are not limited, to vehicle data recorders ("Black Boxes"), vehicle stability (tilt testing), speed limits, better estimated in-service weight, diesel particulate filters, seatbelts, more specific requirements for retro-reflective striping, aerial devices, helmets in the cab and additional equipment on apparatus. Each one of these changes is highlighted in this column.
Vehicle data recorders and associated technology have been around for years. Statistics indicate that an overwhelmingly high percentage of drivers whose actions are questioned have been vindicated by this technology. That is not to say that the remaining drivers have been proven guilty of wrongdoing, but rather that just a small percentage of drivers have had this technology prove some form of guilt in a court of law. There are three components to a vehicle data recorder: the brain that will generally be hidden, the display terminal and an optional handheld data collector.
The data that can be recorded within the system are the vehicle's speed, acceleration and deceleration, engine RPM and throttle position, antilock brake system (ABS) activation, seat occupied with seatbelt status, master optical warning device switch with the master on or off and lateral G-force indicator. All data -- what occurred, where it occurred and when it occurred -- is stored with a date and time stamp and the data is sampled once per second in a 48-hour loop. Vehicle data is sampled minute by minute for 100 engine hours. All data stored in the vehicle data recorder can be uploaded, saved on a computer or printed into hard-copy form. All data stored can be accessed only with a password. Some manufacturers of vehicle data recorders have made available a portable, handheld data-collection unit that can retrieve data from up to 12 vehicles via wireless technology and upload it to a computer via a USB port.
The seatbelt-monitoring component lets the driver and officer know which seats are occupied and which firefighters are seated and secured with seatbelts before moving the vehicle. There is also a built-in output for an external seatbelt alarm system. On the display terminal, which can be viewed by the driver and officer, will be some of the data being sampled. The vehicle data recorder has an optional lateral G-force indicator that alerts the driver and the officer of side forces that are increasing as the vehicle is cornered or operated on a slope or hill. The G-force indicator could help stem the rising tide of fire apparatus rollovers. The visual display will show the vehicle's speed and other system data for the officer to monitor and can also be used when accessing program features. The cab seat indicator shows each seating position and indicates whether seatbelts are properly worn, a seatbelt is unfastened in an occupied seat or a seatbelt is fastened behind a firefighter who is trying to circumvent the system.
Vehicle stability has been addressed in the revision to help combat the high rollover rate of fire apparatus. The standard will require one of the following to enhance vehicle stability: a vehicle stability system (the aforementioned lateral G-force indicator) or the manufacturer can calculate the center of gravity so that it is no higher than 80% of the vehicle's height or do a tilt test on a tilt table so that the vehicle will remain stable to 26.5 degrees in both directions.
Apparatus speed will also be affected. If the gross vehicle weight rating is over 26,000 pounds, the maximum speed will be 68 mph or the fire service speed rating for the vehicle's tires, whichever is lower. If the water and or foam tank capacity is over 1,250 gallons or the gross vehicle weight rating is over 50,000 pounds, the maximum speed is 60 mph or the fire service speed rating for the tires, whichever is lower.