Article Archive
Dave's Notes
Apparatus Standards: Only Participants Get To Complain
Vol 21 No 5

As little as a decade ago industrial fire trucks for facilities handling flammable liquids were pretty much cut using the same template -- either an International or Ford commercial pumper equipped with a V8 gasoline engine. If you were lucky it had an automatic transmission. You most likely had a 1,500 gpm pump and 1,000 gallons of foam on the vehicle.

These vehicles were separate from the NFPA 1901 standard governing fire apparatus. NFPA 11C, the standard that applied, was basically written by foam manufacturers together with a few consultants and users. It was not a standard that promoted innovation or change. New safety features were slow in coming about. Then, in time for the new millennium, NFPA 11C was merged with NFPA 1901, becoming the NFPA foam apparatus standard. More foam trucks were finding their way into the municipal fire service, prompting the change.

Now all the innovative and safety focused features applying to basic fire apparatus applied to foam trucks as well. The change was very much needed. Instead of trying to change the old standard, foam truck manufacturers embraced every aspect of it. Industrial fire trucks were now required to have everything that a standard fire truck had. However, there were problems. Industrial fire trucks now had to carry various tools and accessories that industrial firefighters had little use for.

To deal with these inconsistencies, the NFPA 1901 committee established the Fire Apparatus Foam Truck Task Force. I chair this task force. The task force asked, what does the standard require that is not needed on industrial fire trucks? Ladders always come to mind first. NFPA dropped that requirement. Then we turned the question around. What does an industrial foam truck need that municipal apparatus do not?
Thanks to the task force, industrial foam trucks now have bigger monitors. Improvements were made in the foam tanks and foam systems. Tools used little by industrial firefighters, such as crowbars, disappeared. The end result is a foam truck standard for industry that meets the safety standards that apply to municipal firefighters.

NFPA 1901 defines the requirements for new automotive fire apparatus designed to be used under emergency conditions to transport personnel and equipment and to support the suppression of fires and mitigation of other hazardous situations. Last reviewed in 2003, the new revision cycle begins in fall 2007. Industry once again has the chance to change things they do not like in the current standard. Whether industry will take advantage of the opportunity is another question.

What has been most disappointing is how resistant industrial users are to getting involved. The revision process is a timely opportunity to control costs by identifying what is not needed while assuring critically needed features are maintained or improved. To count, that feedback must be submitted to NFPA before the end of 2007. Otherwise, industrial firefighters will have to live with the prevailing situation another five years until the next round of revisions.

The questions come up every day. Some are simple, like do industrial fire trucks need reflective stripes? It would be hard to defend removing it because of its safety value. On the other hand there may be special tools or adapters that would benefit industrial firefighters. For example, is the foam pump on your apparatus capable of proportioning at three percent regardless of its gallon-per-minute capacity? If a truck is rated at 1,500 gpm, it will pump about 3,000 gpm with a positive water supply from plant fire mains. Should the foam pump be sized to 3,000 gpm for three percent or 1,500 gpm? It makes a lot of difference in performance and cost.

Remember that the standard specifies the basic minimum. Instead of a 3,000 gpm pump you might prefer a 5,000 gpm pump. That's fine. All that is required by the standard is the minimum. Unfortunately, most people in industry have never read NFPA 1901 from front to back. In most cases there is no law that says your apparatus must meet 100 percent of an NFPA standard. Manufacturers will tell you that it is a safety issue. Ask for a truck without seat belts or warning lights and see if they build it. If there is an accident the manufacturers are in the liability loop and have a right to protect themselves. The same does not apply if you simply want a fire truck with a smaller foam capacity than NFPA 1901 says is best.

Likewise, it is important to understand how to read the standards. For example, the annex section in the back of the standard is for information only. It provides information to promote understanding, so it is numbered to correspond with the text of the standard. For example, the annex for Chapter 5.6 states that hose bed stairs are not required to be continuous. Hose beds can be split into several locations. However, the annex recommends that they be continuous. Not requires, but recommends.

Another handy tool provided by the standards' annex is the check list which includes such important questions as, "Is an approval drawing of the apparatus required before the manufacturer starts construction?" or "Is the bidder bonded?" The check list covers details that you might not consider for routine purchases. What type of air filter do you need? Are tire chains needed? Again, the check list involves recommendations, not requirements. You decide what you want to use.

Once the apparatus is delivered, the annex to the standard provides a delivery inspection form. For example, if you had a specification for hose bed lights, check them to be sure they perform as specified. Do they illuminate the hose bed for storing and accessing hose when needed or are the lights directed somewhere else? Is the pump panel elevated so you must climb onto the device to use it? If you are standing on the ground while operating the pump panel and the ladder touches an overhead power line, guess who gets to play ground wire?

Weight is another important factor that the annex can help you calculate. If you are buying a truck that is limited to 29,000 pounds gross vehicle weight and the truck itself is 28,000 pounds, that means you only have room for 1,000 pounds of equipment on board. The annex lists most of the equipment that might be put on the truck, giving the dimension and weight for each piece. For example, if you're using 6-inch hard suction, you will need to provide space on board that is seven inches in diameter and 120 inches long. The weight will be 102 pounds. Using the annex you can quickly figure out the space and weight needed to accommodate your tool list. You can specify the space you need so that the apparatus will not have a load greater than its capacity.

That the annex includes these tools is a direct result of industry input. When industrial firefighters started talking about carrying 2,000 feet of 6-inch hose with 3,000 gpm pump and 5,000 gpm foam nozzles committee members who were municipally oriented thought we were from Mars. Today, they understand. The changes that help industrial firefighters do not happen without industrial input. Bear in mind that the 1901 standards committee is primarily made up of municipal firefighters. With or without that input from industry, that committee is going to act. What is good for municipal might not be good for industrial.

Ideally, committee membership is divided evenly between fire chiefs and firefighters (users), manufacturers and consultants. The toughest thing about the fire apparatus committee is getting the users, i.e., chiefs and firefighters, on board. The chairman of the committee comes from the users group. It is rare that anyone is dropped into the chairman's role immediately. Typically, you have to show interest by attending the meetings three or four years before even being nominated to the committee. Attending does not mean sitting in the back row reading the newspaper. You have to participate in the discussion and interact with the people. The time required is two or three days once or twice a year. Even when you make the committee you must still pay your own expenses and attend the meetings in places such as Reno, NV, or Orlando, FL, on your own time.

In years past, this kind of duty fell to the corporate fire protection engineers who also took care of API, NPRA and ANSI committees. Today, corporate fire protection engineers are as extinct as Neanderthal man and passenger pigeons. Companies simply are not getting involved in fire protection standards. Sure, not every standard applies to industry but NFPA does govern such areas as tank fires, foam trucks, breathing apparatus, protective clothing, fire retardant working clothes and others. Most of these standards simply do not have good participation from industry.

So what are the hot button issues involving NFPA and industrial fire apparatus? One major problem is that firefighters will not wear seat belts. The complaint is that jump seats are too narrow. Take the average firefighter, then add a bunker coat, pants, air pack, hood and helmet. Wrapping a seat belt around all that is not easy. A suggestion that did not last too long was to design a device that prevents the truck from starting until everyone has belted up. An alternative under consideration is a set of lights that tells the driver who has not fastened their belt. The apparatus can move while the officer in charge addresses the issue.

Wider jump seats are being considered. Who came up with the minimum requirement of 22 inches for jump seats width? This is a classic example of how criteria evolve instead of being defined. Somebody measured the maximum width of the cab interior and simply divided by four. That is neither scientific or ergonomic. It may come to pass that three firefighters sitting side by side is the maximum for safety. Another suggestion is to take the air packs out of the cab and put them in compartments until the firefighters arrive. Phoenix and Los Angeles already do this, yet other departments are resistant.

Engine compartments will be another big issue for fire truck standards. These engines complete with a multitude of accessories are becoming gigantic. An engine compartment big enough to accommodate all that certainly reduces the room for firefighters and equipment in the cab. Now EPA is insisting on engines that produce less pollutants. One technology in use today takes the exhaust off the engine, recirculates it through the engine with a blower, then out through an exhaust. The result is an engine compartment that is wider, higher and hotter. Engines may go from an operating temperature of 220 degrees F to nearly 400 degrees F. To put cooling air through one means a bigger radiator. The problem is not when the truck is doing 60 mph down the road. To park the vehicle and still operate it is going to mean borrowing cooling water from the fire pump and passing it through a heat exchanger. All of this will make the future tough for truck designers. Do they put the engine compartment in the front, the back or the middle of the fire truck?

The likely outcome of this issue is fewer choices in engines for fire trucks. Today you can get 10 different horsepower ratings on engines. That will not be available once these engines have to be tested to new EPA standards. It simply is not practical for manufacturers who only build 3,000 to 5,000 trucks a year for industry. Rather than use engines specifically designed for their fire truck, manufacturers will be forced to adapt engines used in large vehicles beyond fire apparatus.

Industrial firefighters with a strong opinion about any of these issues still have time to address their concerns to the NFPA 1901 committee. It's the same as voting for president -- those who don't vote have no right to gripe.


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