Fire Department Tanker Safety - Part IV

The need to develop an effective driver training program and to enforce fire department standard operating procedures and policies cannot be overstated.This is the fourth and final installment in our series on the safe operation of fire department tankers...


The need to develop an effective driver training program and to enforce fire department standard operating procedures and policies cannot be overstated.This is the fourth and final installment in our series on the safe operation of fire department tankers (tenders). Fire department tankers are responsible for more firefighter response-related deaths than any other type of fire apparatus. Only volunteer firefighters operating personal vehicles are responsible for more response-related deaths than tankers. Concern for the alarming number of tanker-involved crashes and deaths led the United States Fire Administration (USFA) to authorize a research project and report studying the problem and searching for solutions. Their report, entitled Safe Operation of Fire Tankers, was released in 2003 and is available on line.


Photo By Michael A. Wieder

The USFA report examines the various causal factors that have been identified as problematic for tankers and their drivers. Through statistical analysis the report identifies the most common of these causes. Case studies of fatal tanker crashes were reviewed for the purpose of learning from the mistakes that were made. Finally, an extensive overview of the training, technological, and programmatic means for preventing future tanker crashes is included.

In order to ensure the validity of the information contained in this report, the USFA convened an esteemed group of subject matter experts who served as peer reviewers for the report. This group included:

  • Gene P. Carlson, Volunteer Fireman's Insurance Services (VFIS)
  • Jeffrey M. Dickey, National Association of Emergency Vehicle Technicians
  • Stephen N. Foley, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • Paul S. Lukas, National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC)
  • Glenn McCallister, Semo Tanks, Rep. Fire Apparatus Manufacturer's Association (FAMA)
  • Robert Murgallis, National Fire Academy
  • Eric D. Nagle, IOCAD Emergency Services
  • Kevin M. Roche, Phoenix Fire Department (Principle Project Researcher)
  • Bill Troup, United States Fire Administration (USFA)
  • Michael A. Wieder, Oklahoma State University, Fire Protection Publications (IFSTA) (Principle Project Writer)
  • Michael Wilbur, Emergency Vehicle Response/Firehouse Magazine
  • Fred C. Windisch, IAFC, Volunteer & Combination Chief Officers Section
  • Michael L. Young, Volunteer Fireman's Insurance Services (VFIS)

At the end of their review work, this panel developed a list of twenty crucial items that can be addressed to minimize the frequency and/or severity of fire tanker crashes. This list was then included at the end of the formal report.


Photo By Michael A. Wieder

1. Operate the tanker at a safe and reasonable speed. Never drive the tanker faster than a speed at which it can be fully controlled. Never exceed the posted speed limit when driving under nonemergency response conditions.

2. The cautionary speed signs that accompany road signs indicating curves in the road should be considered the maximum speed for a tanker driving on these curves in any condition. In many cases, the suggested speed may be too high for tankers as they are developed for passenger cars on dry roads. It most cases, it will be necessary for the tanker to take the curve at a speed slower than what is posted (Figure 1).

3. It is recommended that new tankers exceeding a GVWR of 32,000 pounds be equipped with antilock braking systems. NFPA 1901 requires antilock brakes for all vehicles exceeding 36,000 pounds.

4. Keep all of the wheels on the primary road surface at all times. Having the tanker's right-side wheels drift off the edge of the road is one of the most common causes of tanker crashes. If the right-side wheels do get off the edge of the road, do not try to bring the apparatus back onto the road surface at a high speed. Slow the apparatus to 20 mph or less before trying to bring the wheels back onto the road surface.

5. Travel with the water tank either completely empty or completely full. This minimizes the effects of liquid surge within the tank. This is a good idea even if the tank is properly baffled, and it is crucial if the tank is not properly baffled.

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