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...

6. Avoid operating retrofit tankers if at all possible. Every attempt should be made to place in service tankers that were specifically engineered and designed for fire department operations. Serious accidents have been attributed to poorly designed, retrofitted, or homebuilt tankers.

7. Know the weight of your apparatus. All tankers should be weighed completely full and that weight should be posted (in units of pounds and tons) on a plaque on the vehicle's dashboard. This will help the driver to determine if it is safe to drive the vehicle on a road or bridge that has posted weight restrictions.

8. Require mandatory training for tanker drivers. This must include extensive training before being allowed to drive the tanker on public roadways and refresher training on a regular basis according the requirements of NFPA 1451 and NFPA 1500 (Figure 2).

9. Establish an effective maintenance program for the tanker and all other fire department vehicles. Many mechanical failures that lead to crashes can be prevented if the apparatus is inspected and maintained on a regular basis. Guidelines for establishing proper maintenance programs can be found in NFPA 1915. It is recommended that apparatus be inspected at least weekly.

Photo By Michael A. Wieder

10. Use spotters when backing the apparatus. Even though cameras and other devices for assisting with backing the apparatus do provide some measure of safety, there is no substitute for having at least one, preferably two, spotters to guide the driver while the apparatus is being operated in reverse. NFPA 1500 requires spotters for backing, regardless of whether the apparatus is equipped with cameras or other backing safety equipment. One spotter should be equipped with a portable radio in the event that they need to contact the driver during the backing operation.

11. Retrofit all tankers with back-up alarms. These devices warn other people in the area that a tanker is backing up. This will allow them to get out of the way before a crash occurs.

12. Come to a complete stop at all intersections containing a stop sign or red traffic light in your direction of travel. The most likely place to collide with another vehicle is in an intersection. Nearly all of these crashes can be prevented if the tanker comes to a complete stop when faced with the signal to do so. The tanker may proceed through the intersection after assuring that all other vehicles have granted them the right of way to proceed. If the tanker driver cannot be certain that all vehicles are stopping to allow the tanker passage, the apparatus should not proceed.

13. Wear your seatbelt whenever the apparatus is in motion. While wearing a seatbelt may not prevent a crash from occurring it certainly can minimize the risk to the driver (and the other occupants) in the event one does occur. A significant percentage of tanker accidents involve the vehicle rolling over and the driver and/or passenger(s) being thrown from the vehicle. The chance of serious injury or death is greatly multiplied when the occupant is thrown from the vehicle. Wearing of seatbelts will prevent near all ejections from the vehicle.

14. Keep the windows rolled up. This will add an extra measure of security in preventing the occupant(s) from being ejected from the apparatus in the event of a rollover crash.

15. Be familiar with your response district and the roads within it. By being familiar with the various routes within the response district, the driver will be able to anticipate when approaching hazardous sections of roads, dangerous curves, and other hazards to safe vehicle response.

16. Avoid poorly constructed or unpaved roads whenever possible. Again, familiarity with the response district will aid the driver in this objective. It may be safer (and faster) to take a paved route that is longer than the shorter unpaved route to an emergency scene (Figures 3 & 4).

17. Limit the number of apparatus responding to an emergency to a reasonable, prudent number. Dispatching three engines, two tankers, a heavy rescue squad, and three chief officers to a reported car fire is overkill. The more vehicles that are on the road, the greater the odds of one of them being involved in a crash.

Photo By Michael A. Wieder