Miracles Do Happen, Apparatus Technology Can Help

A young firefighter is lucky to be alive after the fire engine she was driving rolled over in Kansas. Apparatus builders are doing more and more to keep firefighters safe in crashes.

And, in the meantime, Reno County is going to be looking for a replacement apparatus and there are lots of new features being used by apparatus builders today to keep firefighters safe.

Virtually all of the apparatus makers today are building units with airbag occupant protection – some rivalling those systems found in high-end automobiles. Airbag protection has evolved from just front impact protection, to side curtain rollover protection, both front and back, and now even knee protection.

All of the apparatus manufacturers that make their own cabs and chassis, including American LaFrance, E-ONE, Ferrara, KME, Pierce, Rosenbauer Smeal, Spartan,and Sutphen have some form of airbag occupant protection. And even builders who manufacture apparatus on provided cabs and chassis offer airbag systems.

Much of the focus on apparatus safety is driven by customer requests and by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation’s Everyone Goes Home Program.

For years, NFFF has been working with the fire service and manufacturers to prevent line of duty deaths. To that end, it developed 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives. The last one focuses on apparatus design and safety.

A white paper was generated in 2007, written by Daniel Gaumont, chief of the Watertown, N.Y., Fire Department. The 13-page paper details things manufacturers need to do to keep firefighters safe.

And truck builders have been doing a good job meeting that initiative. They’ve spent a lot of money on research and development to come up with roll prevention systems, occupant protection systems, stability systems and, lately, some very sophisticated obstruction sensing systems that will slow apparatus automatically if something in its path is detected. E-ONE introduced that system at a show earlier this year.

It makes anti-lock braking systems (ABS) seem antiquated.

Component makers like Fire Research have long had seat belt monitoring systems alerting the engineer and officer who in the back doesn’t have the safety belt on. That gives the officer the notification necessary to order firefighters to buckle up, and even determine which one he needs to turn around and slap, via an LED on a monitor.

It might be a good idea to put an interlock device on the system so the apparatus won’t move without the belts engaged, but I can hear the cries of “foul” on that one already. Yeah, I know it won’t work which is why it’s probably not a standard feature now.

Cameras are being integrated more and more on apparatus. Rear-view cameras for backing are just the beginning these days as some manufacturers, like Rosenbauer and E-ONE, have incorporated side view cameras.

Not all of the built-in apparatus safety has to be high-tech and electronic.

In fact much of the occupant protection comes from good, solid fabrication of cabs. For years, manufacturers of custom cabs and chassis have been doing crash testing and cab crush testing. They have been testing to European standards which they say are very stringent.

And today, most commercial cab and chassis makers are also doing crash and crush testing. Even the simple and, now, routine components like independent front suspension, disk brakes and tire protection systems help minimum crashes.

When it comes right down to it, the newer the apparatus, the more crash prevention and protection becomes available.

There will come a day when all of this technology, and far more, is standard on apparatus. And when we’re responding, won’t it be good to know that big red truck has our back, just as much as the person sitting next to us.

I can’t wait.