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While there has been much discussion about the merits of individual requirements, the net result has been safer vehicles for responding and operating at incidents.
Accidents involving engines, tankers and tenders represent approximately 44% of all fatal apparatus incidents. While the fire service has benefitted from well-designed and well-constructed apparatus, in most cases, between 1977 and 2006, 76% of firefighter fatalities that occurred while responding to and returning from calls involved firefighters who were not wearing their seatbelts. These two numbers are staggering and represent areas where all personnel must address their attitudes toward safety and increased training in vehicle operations under all types of conditions.
“The NFPA 1901 standard makes it more difficult for us to purchase a new apparatus due to the increased cost.”
While there can be no disputing the higher costs of new vehicles, the price of a lost-time injury or fatality is incrementally more costly for the department, not to mention the associated impact on members and their families. Departments must take a proactive approach to integrating safety components on new or existing apparatus wherever possible. The NFPA 1901 Standard’s Annex D offers excellent guidelines for departments to consider when upgrading existing vehicles. Purchasing any new apparatus is a costly investment for any municipality. Part 46 of “The Apparatus Architect” (July 2010) reviewed programs and polices that can enable departments to justify purchasing new vehicles.
The third cost multiplier for new apparatus is the general state of the economy and the cost of raw materials. Apparatus builders generally do not have the ability to stockpile components such as engines, transmissions and fire pumps to pull off the shelf for use on a particular vehicle. Program apparatus, which are pre-engineered to provide a reasonable number of options, have become an attractive alternative to “start with a blank piece of paper” custom apparatus. The variability on options for major components requires manufacturers to order these specifically for each customer.
The material costs for a custom-chassis pumper can approach half the cost of the completed apparatus. For this reason, the cost of doing business with work in progress and other economic factors dictate that manufactures look to operate with lean manufacturing techniques to reduce their overhead while providing a well-designed and well-constructed product.
The overall quality of fire apparatus has benefited from technology and safety standards. Compare a pumper built in 2010 with one built in 1995 and the number of component and safety enhancements is considerable. While it took the fire service until 1991 to adopt a standard requiring the four-door, fully enclosed cab that was first introduced in 1935, the variety of manual and electronic devices that are integrated into the final design of a new apparatus within the past five years is impressive.
“My department chooses to waive some of the mandated NFPA 1901 requirements such as the rear-body chevrons and maximum top speed of the vehicle.”
As the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), each department has the final say in determining the configuration of its new apparatus. Most specifications require the completed vehicle to meet all requirements of the current NFPA 1901 Standard as a minimum. Choosing to ignore specific requirements would create problems for the organization if a member or civilian is injured as a result of not meeting a portion of the standard.
While different states and localities have laws that govern the adoption of nationally recognized standards and liability statutes, any department would be well advised to ensure that its new apparatus complies with all requirements of the current 1901 Standard. Several manufacturers can provide third-party certification in this area, which is another manner for the department to ensure that its new apparatus fully complies with the current version of the NFPA 1901 Standard.