Manager: Capt. Walter W. Lee
Title: Engineering Officer
Fleet: Minneapolis Fire Department
Operation: Fire and rescue fleet
One of any fire department's worst fears was realized when two fire trucks responding to a call collided in a Minneapolis intersection. Capt. Walt Lee says the fact that no one was injured was truly a miracle since none of the firefighters were wearing seatbelts and the emergency gear they kept close at hand turned into airborne when the vehicles crashed.
“One of our firefighters had his SCBA [air tank and mask] in its mounting bracket; it came out and flew from the back of the cab to the front and then back again,” Lee said. “Another firefighter was thrown from the back seat into the front seat, then flipped into the back seat again by the force of the crash.”
Lee felt one close call was one too many, so he and the fire shop foreman, Cam Haugland, decided to make subtle vehicle spec'ing changes that could help reshape firefighter behavior, ensuring that they fastened seatbelts and stowed their gear outside the cab. As part of this effort, Lee also looked at other ways of making the trucks safer for firefighters, focusing on injuries from improper hose connections, as well as slip-and-fall incidents.
Lee instituted a series of small but significant changes to the specs of new equipment.
The first was installation of enclosed storage compartments between the front and rear doors outside the cab, where the crew can stow boots, SCBA, helmets and other gear. Next he spec'd plenty of secure interior compartments. Any tools or equipment mounted inside the cab now use National Fire Protection Assn. (NFPA) compliant brackets.
“It's an uphill battle because the crews want to keep their gear with them, in the belief that it allows them to respond faster,” Lee explains. “But the truck cab is simply no place for loose gear.”
Bolted-on ladders for safe access to the top of the rig are now standard equipment on all pumpers, with handholds and extruded metal plates in place on top of the vehicle. “I don't like it when our firefighters get up there,” says Lee. “But now if they have to go up, they'll be safe.”
Other spec'ing tweaks include foot-pedal-activated sirens and lights, so drivers can keep both hands on the wheel. West Coast style rearview mirrors obstructed the driver's view when crossing an intersection, so they were replaced by sleeker designs that can not only be controlled remotely from inside the cab, but are also heated.
The pump panel is now color-coded, as are the hose outlets, so crews don't have to waste precious seconds figuring out which hose goes to which connection.
New seatbelt alarms — both audible and visual — are still a thorny issue. “Our crews didn't like them and they've found really creative ways to disable them,” he says. “But that's what protects them in an accident.”
Lee also switched to contrasting color seatbelts, making it easier for a truck's officer to verify that everyone is belted in.” Lee says. “Change does not come easy and will not happen overnight. But we're not giving up.”
Maintenance Bay presents case studies detailing how fleets resolve maintenance-related issues.