Apparatus Engineers Roundtable 2005

Firehouse Magazine conducts a Q&A with the chief engineers of apparatus manufacturers and discusses apparatus safety.


Firehouse Magazine recently asked fire apparatus manufacturers to join a roundtable to discuss the all-important issue of vehicle safety. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) reports that vehicle crashes represent the second-leading cause, or about 25%, of firefighter line-of-duty deaths. The USFA...


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Cardinal: In general, the technology trends tend to start with automotive, get scaled up to the over-the-road trucks and then convert to fire apparatus. With this said, I would expect continued emphasis on better braking, electronic enhancements such as traction control, antiskid braking systems (ABS), roll stability control (RSC) and steering systems to become more responsive through rack and pinion and power assist. For operator protection during an accident, the use of seatbelts anchored to structural members of the cab are still the best protection supplemented by automatic seatbelt tensioning systems, structurally sound cabs driven by better safety standards and airbag systems more like automotive (impact actuated).

Firehouse: What can be done to reduce the rollover potential of apparatus, such as wider tires or suspensions, when drivers steer apparatus near the edge of road surfaces?

Cardinal: Rollovers can occur due to several factors, the first being the design of the vehicle. The center of gravity and the weight distribution, both front to back and side to side, will cause a vehicle to have a higher propensity to roll if it is put in a situation resulting in high lateral Gs. In addition, older vehicles not up to recent National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards (pre-1991) have fewer safety features. Paying strict attention to the tire manufacturer’s ratings and properly sizing suspension components will help in the overall stability.

Proper vehicle maintenance includes proper tire inflation, tire wear, brake components and systems, suspension performance and proper chassis lubrication. If the vehicle is designed and maintained properly, it will still be inherently less stable then a passenger car. From the data I have seen, many rollovers occur due to over-correction of the vehicle, whether a tire goes off the pavement or someone or something gets in the path of the vehicle. The most prominent vehicle involved in rollovers being the tanker with volunteer firefighters driving the majority of the time. Drivers need to be trained properly with an understanding of the dynamics of a large vehicle more like the requirements of a CDL.

One of the most promising technologies to emerge is roll stability control which helps keep the vehicle in control while correcting from an incident. Lastly, the best protection in the event of a rollover is a structurally sound cab design with all occupants properly wearing seatbelts anchored to the structure of the cab.


PIERCE
Tom Decoster
Director of Engineering
Pierce Manufacturing
Tom Decoster received a bachelor of science degree from Michigan Technological University. At Pierce Manufacturing, he is director of engineering, responsible for all aspects of design and development for production engineering and new product development. Decoster has been with Pierce Manufacturing for 10 years, serving as plant manager, refurbishment manager, director of customer service and technical service, director of product management and director of engineering. Prior to Pierce Manufacturing, he spent 11 years in the wood products industry.

Firehouse: It takes years for new technology to be tested and added to fire apparatus. Please describe any new safety, driving or ergonomic features that we can expect to see in new fire apparatus.

Decoster: Regarding safety and new technology added to fire apparatus, Pierce Manufacturing is dedicated to research and develop features that improve conditions for firefighters. It is our commitment to firefighter safety that drives a great deal of innovation. We are constantly interviewing firefighters and discussing opportunities with focus groups to better understand how designs can improve ergonomics, operating conditions and safety. Our job is to make their job easier and safer.

That’s why you see Pierce focusing on the entire vehicle, and not just one area. There are two major factors that have to be encompassed to make fire apparatus functional while improving ergonomics and safety:

1. All the essential areas (chassis, cab, fire suppression, electrical, body, aerial device) have to function independently, as well as in conjunction with each other, to fulfill the mission profile of the truck.

2. Each firefighter on board the truck carries specific job duties; Pierce’s mission is to provide every user enhanced safety and improved operating conditions.

Here are some of the coordinated product/engineering efforts Pierce Manufacturing has focused on and is continuing to focus on: