Other ways to save your life — safety belts, fluid checks
Item one addresses one of my biggest pet peeves. Check out this story from another firefighter. “While responding to a call one afternoon in an older model “commercial cab” truck, we made a sharp turn from one primary road onto another. As we did, the door next to me sprung completely open and I was literally staring at the blacktop beneath moving at what seemed like an incredible rate of speed. My momentum was already in the direction of the door and I was leaning on it as it opened. If it wasn’t for my seatbelt, I might have met that pavement on a much more personal level!”
Further inspection from the department’s mechanic revealed that the door was not seating properly on the Nader pin and thus had not latched completely. As they investigated further, what they determined as the root cause was the fact that the doors of this apparatus had routinely been left open for years while it sat in the bay. The excessive weight of the door resting solely on the hinges had caused the latching mechanism of the door to shift and not sit properly on the pin.
Think back to your auto extrication class. A significant portion of the door weight is supported by the Nader pin system when the door is in the closed position. Although one mechanic at E-One that I spoke with said he personally doesn’t see a problem, most door hinges were not designed to support the entire weight of the doors for hours on end.
I was told by E-One that the “piano style” hinges you see on most newer apparatus should have no problem supporting the door for long periods of time. When I took this information to an apparatus mechanic that I know, he had this to say, “Although the piano hinges on the custom cabs may be designed better, it may lead to personnel leaving commercial cab doors open thinking that they are custom cab doors. It also doesn’t account for coats or other equipment being hung on cab doors.
Consider the weight of a turnout coat that is soaking wet from being cleaned after a fire and also has pliers, wire cutters, folding spanner wrenches, etc. in its pockets. Even on a custom cab door (with piano hinges) this could be unneeded additional stress. By just telling everyone to leave all the apparatus doors closed, we can avoid those additional stresses of equipment being hung on the doors and prevent the confusion by personnel who may not be aware of the difference between cab and hinge designs.”
In 2005, Amarillo Firefighter Brian Hutton was killed when the door on his ladder truck opened in the same manner as described above. Stress and corrosion on the hinge and latching mechanisms were determined to be primary contributing factors (along with the fact that he wasn’t wearing his safety belt). The best way to protect both the hinges and latching mechanisms is to keep the doors closed when they don’t need to be open. I know it looks cool to leave the doors open and it might save you five seconds at the most (yes I timed it), but c’mon guys — is it really worth it? When you check the truck off, do you ever check the latching mechanisms on the doors? And if you don’t, who does?
This is another out of the box way your truck can save your life. In February, 2008 I was working as the safety officer for a department in the Low Country of South Carolina when I got one of those phone calls that you never want to get. I was teaching an EMT class out of the county when I got the call that one of our firefighters had rolled an engine and was entrapped and suffering from major injuries. My heart sank as I was too far away to do anything to help my friend and student. As it turns out, the first attempts to free him were made using the extrication equipment from the engine that he had rolled.
Have you ever stopped to consider that the equipment that you are checking off might, before the end of the shift, be used to save the life of a brother or sister, or even your own? The equipment on our trucks is used to save lives and protect property. Everyone we come in contact with is someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, cousin — they are someone’s family. If you knew that the equipment on your truck was going to be used to save your brother’s life (or your own), would you check it more carefully? I’m here to tell you that that day might come. Do you check the equipment on that truck like your life depends on it?
We have to give a nod to safety belts. Have you noticed that the belts in the newer apparatus are red? They demand to be noticed — and worn. You have heard this preached, but you may not always see it practiced. Wear your seatbelt every time, 100 percent of the time. Did you know that a significant number of apparatus collisions happen as trucks are pulling off the pad and into the roadway? The idea of “let me just finish buttoning my coat” might just get you killed. Engineers and officers in the seat need to make sure that everyone is belted, every time — before the truck moves. Want to save time getting out of the bay? Two words — ”bunker drills”.
This brings us to checking the fluids. Ever wonder why we check the fluids in our trucks so often? A volunteer firefighter friend of mine once told me about a time that he responded to the station to get a truck for a structure fire. Everything was great, the truck cranked just fine and he got in route. He got up to highway speed and everything was still fine. Approaching the “T” intersection, he first noticed the problem — a big one. The breaking system was not responding as it should have. He was able to slow the truck significantly, but wasn’t able to stop it until he blew the rural intersection (thankfully no one was coming), jumped the ditch and crashed through a wooden fence. He was able to escape injury, but what a wild ride! After-incident investigation revealed no brake fluid in the reservoir and in this all volunteer station, there was no record of it being checked in the past month.
Hopefully I have given you something to think about the next time you are checking off that truck. Notice that most of the examples above come from people that I know. They reflect incidents that have actually happened and can happen again any day. As firefighters, we take pride in lots of things. Take pride in that truck check like your life depends on it...because it does.