1. #1
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    Jun 2002

    Default Unsafe At Any Speed?

    The recent NFPA study placed a spotlight on the issue of firefighter LODDs while responding to emergency calls. Many of the reasons for the the increase in LODDs have been discussed, but there is one cause has not been mentioned very much. Unsafe department vehicles.
    Two of the deaths last year were a direct result of brake/suspension failures on the vehicles (tanker trucks) involved. In one case, there was no brake fluid in the master cylinder and there were several empty brake fluid containers in the cab. This department knew there was a significant leak in the system, yet refused to pull the truck out of service.

    My question is this. How many of you have experienced a mechanical failure while responding and how did your department or city handle the problem? Do you currently have vehicles that you are concerned about?

    I've had two incidents driving FD apparatus that could have been tragic. In one case, I was driving an older truck (not air brakes)when we lost all brakes as we approached a major intersection. We were lucky that everyone yielded to our siren since we were unable to even slow down at that point. This had been a re-occurring problem with this truck, but it never acted up when the mechanics were looking at it. We finally got it replaced but only because we complained so loudly to the city.

    In the other situation, I was driving a year old telesquirt on wet streets when I tapped the brakes as I approached a stop sign. The wheels immediately locked up and we went through the instersection almost sideways as I pumped the brakes trying to get them to release. We later found out that a similar event had occurred on the previous shift. When we took it to the city garage to be looked at, the chief mechanic pulled out a recall letter on the anti-lock brakes that stated that we should stop using the truck until repairs could be made. We were told that they received the letter the previous week, but hadn't gotten around to notifying us to take the truck out of service.

    Have any of you had similar experiences? I know budgets are tight (they always are), but this is an issue that is a danger to the other drivers on the road as well as to the firefighters responding.

  2. #2
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    Dec 2000


    We've never had any of these issues since I've been on my volunteer dept. Mostly comparitively minor issues such as coolant leaks and electrical system problems.

    We are lucky enough to have several mechanics as members and rigs are taken out of service and repaired immediately.

  3. #3
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    spearsm's Avatar
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    Mar 2004
    Lowndes, MS USA


    Unfortunatley we have. The pittman arm fell off of a 2001 International. Yeah, you heard that right. While responding to a smoke alarm, the pittman arm fell off,luckily in a straight away, and was discovered when the truck wouldn't turn at the intersection.... we had to have 3 turnout pants cleaned,. The rig was taken out of service..(go figure) and towed away......
    Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

    If all you have is a hammer, then your problems start to look like nails.

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  4. #4
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    Dalmatian90's Avatar
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    Mar 2000


    Worst I've seen on the road: Driveshaft of an ambulance falling out a few weeks after it went in service. Fortunately it dropped from the rear U-joint! I hope I phrase this right, but the Amublance mfg. neglected to torque the bolts on the U-joint, something they were responsible for (for some reason Ford purposely shipped them loose). A whole batch got through when someone changed jobs or forgot to update an SOP or something...

    Not our department's truck, maybe not even mechanical failure...have seen a rollaway tanker at a structure fire...

    Other than that, most of the bad things have kept the trucks back at quarters when someone goes to start it and they Phhhhttttttt.
    IACOJ Canine Officer

  5. #5
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    ullrichk's Avatar
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    Jan 2002
    Deleted by the forum gremlins


    You bring up an excellent point about unsafe vehicles. There are plenty of cases where the best driver in ideal conditions couldn't prevent an apparatus crash, even if he or she were just driving in traffic. Fortunately these failures don't always result in injuries or fatalities.

    I used to work at a department that had built a number of tankers and pumpers on its own to "save money." What we wound up with would never pass a DOT inspection or even a once-over by any mechanic with a conscience. In addition to serious design flaws, they were poorly maintained (also to "save money"). Suffice it to say that we were damn lucky.

    The scary thing is that I know our situation was not unique.

    Large departments are not immune, either. Was it Pittsburgh that had firefighters riding on the tailboard this year because their reserve trucks did not have adequate seating for the crew? If the reserves are that old, what does it say about the rest of their fleet? It boils down to the fact that they need adequate equipment or an "accident" will happen. To me, the saddest part is that the fire department may well have its hands tied by a political administration that either doesn't understand the problem, or worse, turns a blind eye to the problem.

    This is a subject that warrants much more scrutiny if we really want to know the state of the fire service in the U.S.

    a ship in a harbor is safe. . . but that's not what ships are for

  6. #6
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    Apr 2004
    South Jersey


    We are fortunate that it is in our contract that apparatus must be in good operating condition. (I know it is not worded exactly like that but it is the genreal point that matters here.) If a primary peice were to go down we always have the resevre, minus the tower in which case we would have to go mutial aid. It works good for the vol. side of the dept. as well because we always stand a chance of being on any piece of appartaus, (we take whatever the call warrants, there is no paid or vol. specified truck). This as well as a good working relationship with city hall has always been able to keep us in safe vehicles, not to say they may not be old or ratty, but they are safe.

  7. #7
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    allineedisu's Avatar
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    Apr 2004


    Any apparatus that has mechanical problems should be parked and not used until repaired. BRAKES or lack thereof is a good reason the park this ride until it is fixed.

    I was driving a 1954 pumper one night when the old hydrovac went out and I had very little brakes. I pulled the pumper over to the curb and the Lt. radioed in that we were out of service. The shop guy radioed us to bring it to the shop. Yeah Right!! The Lt. told him it was out of service with no brakes, send a tow truck, as we aren't driving it until the brakes are repaired.

    Have a safe day and don't drive apparatus that needs repairing.

  8. #8
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    Mar 2002
    Loco madidus effercio in rutilus effercio.


    As the Unit Engineer, I can absolutely appreciate the need for well maintained equipment. Coupled with that, is the incident that occured while I and FF26 were responding in the '74 Ford pumper that we had on loan while awaiting the arrival of our Engine. Our district is mostly all down hill from the station, and we ended up "cruising" past the incident at about 30MPH because the hydraulic brakes failed on me. They overheated, and it was a wee bit of good driving skills and a great deal of luck that we were able to get the truck to the bottom of the hill, turned around and returned to quarters in a safe manner.

    That's the technical side of the story, from the guy driving.... there is a funnier part of it, from 26's point of view, should he accept the inviation to tell.

    We found that the problem with the brakes was overheating caused by continued use on the hill, and an overweight truck, with underpowered braking. It was a lesson well learned regarding response speeds, which I heed almost religiously now when driving to a call. I would rather not become the "nature of our next tone out..."
    If you don't do it RIGHT today, when will you have time to do it over? (Hall of Fame basketball player/coach John Wooden)

    "I may be slow, but my work is poor." Chief Dave Balding, MVFD

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    Get it up. Get it on. Get it done!

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  9. #9
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    GTRider245's Avatar
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    May 2005


    I have only expirienced one mechanical failure while actually driving. While returning from a call one day we split the transfer case right in two. Heard a pop and thought nothing of it. When we pulled in the driveway, transmission fluid was leaking everywhere. Didn't affect driveability, but it was still a strange expirience. Shop said all they could figure were the teeth on the output shafts just happened to lock while driving.

    Havn't had any problems since.
    Career Firefighter
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    -Professional in Either Role-

    Quote Originally Posted by Rescue101 View Post
    I don't mind fire rolling over my head. I just don't like it rolling UNDER my a**.

  10. #10
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    RspctFrmCalgary's Avatar
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    May 2002
    Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!

    Default No lessons learned?

    Interesting bump 6 years later, isn't there a current thread discussing mechanical issues?

    This thread could easily have been written yesterday.
    September 11th - Never Forget

    I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.

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  11. #11
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    Apr 2009
    SW Missouri


    Quote Originally Posted by driving101 View Post
    Hello, Yes its unsafe at over speed. Drivers should properly concentrate while driving at the road specially of heavy vehicles like trucks. They must be given driving lessons and must learn traffic rules for safe driving. Nowadays road accidents are increasing a lot. If they have proper knowledge of driving they must be aware of mechanical failures also.
    Poor dead horse got dug up for this bit of wisdom.

  12. #12
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    Nov 2010
    USA baby


    Unforunately with the current economy, many older apparatus are being pushed longer/harder without being replaced. Its definately a safety issue. One of our pumpers is a 1994 and has been at one of the busiest stations in town its entire life. Not only is it worn out, we're also talking about safety features designed in the early 90s, vs the safety features of newer pumpers. Great topic.
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