The New Year, Positive Outcomes, and Seatbelts

Thursday, January 1, 2009 Recently there have been a series of apparatus rollovers and there is good news. You might ask what is so good about an apparatus rollover the answer a large majority of firefighters and officers involved were wearing seatbelts. So rather than going to more funerals we can start the new year off on a positive note. The work done by so many in this business Burt Clark, Billy Goldfeder, Gordon Routley, John Salka, Bobby Halton, and many others that are advocating the use of seatbelts is finally paying off.

We continue to follow the apparatus rollover in Massachusetts where the 21 year old firefighter who was taking the apparatus out on a road test lost control and rolled the vehicle over, with minor injuries. As we go to press the driver had been charged with several driving offenses including reckless driving and it was just learned that he will be charged with operating the apparatus under the influence. We would ask for prayers for the fire chief, the driver and the rest of the fire department as they navigate these rough waters.

I receive many questions about apparatus over the course of a month and while doing a seminar in New England I actually had a chance to meet the Deputy Chief who asked one of those questions. The question that he asked and has been asked by many, my Fire Department has purchased a commercial pumper and the seatbelts will not fit around my bunker clad firefighters what do we do? I answered the chief by recommending that he contact the apparatus manufacturer and or the manufacturer’s dealer that sold the truck and ask for longer female stalks for the fixed seatbelt end. Many people in the fire service get seatbelt extenders and longer female stalks confused. Most of us that have flown recently at one time or another has been seated near a large person who has had to ask for a seatbelt extender which is like an adaptor that bridges the gap of the female seatbelt end and the male end. Seatbelt extenders have not been offered in fire apparatus due to the liability and crash dynamics. A longer female seatbelt stalk pictured (Photo #1) comes out further from the back of the seat to accommodate firefighters in bunker gear. The Deputy Chief called the manufacturer with the problem which the manufacturer fixed almost immediately. So when I arrived in town for the seminar the Deputy Chief could not wait to show me the results of his inquiry and subsequent fix. So up to this point it has been all positive.

The Chief showed me the apparatus and just like he said the female seatbelt stalks had been replaced with longer stalks to accommodate bunker clad firefighters, but then upon further inspection in the crew cab of this commercial pumper I found that the SCBA seats closest to the apparatus doors had three point seatbelt harnesses and yet the middle SCBA seat had just a lap belt (Photo #2). As I looked further it became obvious why the manufacturer did not put a three point seatbelt in the center seat as the commercial chassis was equipped with a rear window. So in this case there was nowhere to anchor the seatbelt on the top of the cab because of the window. Seatbelts that are integrated into the SCBA seats are a relatively new idea so perhaps they were not available when this apparatus was built or perhaps it was not part of the spec or perhaps the firefighter riding in the center seat is not as valuable as the firefighters that sit next to the exit doors of the cab. Automobiles have had three point seatbelt harnesses built for the center seat for a long time so we should demand no less for the nation’s firefighters. This is another example of buyer beware and you may want to get someone with some technical knowledge to help you design your next apparatus.

From my family to yours may you have the Happiest, Healthiest and Safest of New Years.
Firehouse Magazine January 2009

By Michael Wilbur