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Safety 101 - Lesson 21

Training must involve not only how to operate the components of the vehicle, but to know the physical characteristics of the vehicle.

For many departments, the arrival of a new piece of fire apparatus is a time of celebration, a time to transfer equipment, learn how to run the pump, generator, set up the aerial, etc. However, how many of us take the time to learn from the sales engineer, the vehicle characteristics and differences between the vehicle being replaced and the new vehicle.

Business and corporate fleets generally have requirements to require a new type of vehicle being introduced warranting all drivers or potential drivers to "learn" the new vehicle, its operation and driving characteristics. An emergency services vehicle is no different. Is your program truly valuable or just giving "lip service" to the issue.

Even if the new vehicle is made by the same manufacturer as the one being replaced, there is a high probability, the new vehicle will have a more powerful engine, handle easier, weigh more and be longer, higher, or both. Each of these differences presents a challenge to the operator. For example:

A 2006 heavy rescue replaces a 1990 heavy rescue. The vehicles were made by the same manufacturer. However, the new unit is longer, is one and a half foot higher, has a greater carrying capacity, a more powerful engine, and a tighter turning radius. While the trucks look extremely similar, their driving features are quite different. Only a training session will enable the operators to better understand the vehicle.

The VFIS Course "Emergency Vehicle Driver Training" (and similar EVOC - Emergency Vehicle Operators Course - type courses) provides the student with a clear understanding of vehicle characteristics such as velocity (speed), friction (tire contact with the road surface), inertia (the vehicle continuing in a straight line until an intervention occurs), momentum (the faster you drive, the longer it will take to stop) and centrifugal force (the heavier the vehicle, the more the centrifugal force controls the vehicle movement). As we learned in the "Emergency Vehicle Driver Training Course", these five vehicle characteristics affect the control of your vehicle. If these physical laws of nature are not understood and related to the new vehicle, the physical laws of nature control the movement of the vehicle - not you as the operator, thus raising the potential for an accident. Following the discussion of these characteristics, the course involves actually driving vehicles to better understand the operational impacts of these vehicle features. As much as possible, involve the sales engineer in the initial demonstration of driving the new vehicle.

When you receive a new vehicle in your department, you need to review this information before placing that new vehicle into service, as it is incumbent on the responsible officer to make sure your operators know how these characteristics relate to the new unit. In addition, with a new vehicle will come new maintenance and performance limitations. NEVER operate the vehicle outside the recommendations of the manufacturer. The best way to achieve this - involve the sales engineer in the discussion and training.

Recent research conducted by VFIS for the National Volunteer Fire Council, confirmed that training for fire apparatus operators needs to involve

  • a basic EVOC course, periodic refresher courses,
  • discussions when incidents or near-misses occur, and
  • when new apparatus is placed in service.

This applies not only to brand new vehicles, but if you have bought a pre-owned piece of fire or EMS apparatus.

More importantly, it was noted that the training must involve not only how to operate the components of the vehicle, but to know the physical characteristics of the vehicle, and to understand the differences between the new vehicle and the vehicle it is replacing. For example:

A 2002 low profile engine was originally housed at one company's Station 2. With the arrival of the larger engine in 2004, it was housed at Station 2, with the low profile engine deployed to Station 1. Drivers at Station 2 now had to become acquainted with a vehicle that was more than 2 feet higher, and with a larger tank, at least 2,500 pounds heavier than the lower profile engine. The newer, larger vehicle had different handling and maneuvering characteristics as a result of the different design. Only a training session will enable the operators to better understand the vehicle.

Additionally, most new vehicles will be bigger and the ability to see the rear and sides by using mirrors places new driving demands upon the operator. Cameras have become commonplace on larger vehicles to see to the left side and rear, and spotters to the rear should ALWAYS be used.

As these issues of vehicle operation, limitations, and performance are made known and "learned", it becomes important to integrate them into routine operating practices by incorporating the information in standard operating guidelines.

It doesn't matter whether it is a pumper, aerial, tanker, or ambulance; the same issues apply. If you don't know the operational and handling features of a vehicle, an accident can result. Involve your sales engineers from the manufacturers in this educational process and remember - a new truck means learning to drive all over again!

Lesson #21

The arrival of a new vehicle means learning to drive all over again.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!

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DR. WILLIAM F. JENEWAY, CSP, CFO, CFPS, a Contributing Editor, is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in safety and risk management in the insurance industry. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management. He has partipated the NVFC Corner podcasts on To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.