Monday, March 26, 2007

New Heights (part 2 of 2)

New Heights Part 2

Posted on Fire Chief Magazine, By Kent Pauli

Safety features

The truck-leveling assist system is another feature that many manufacturers are offering more regularly. When stabilizers are placed at the scene, the operator can:

  1. Manually level by sight, using the vehicle's inclinometers.
  2. Push a button.

When the second choice activates the leveling assist system, the truck will level within the grade it is on. The system factors in the various grades fore and aft, as well as side-to-side, so the operator doesn't need to go to all sides of the truck and check for level. This can be a major time-saver when seconds count, while providing greater accuracy.

Safety is a factor in ergonomics decisions like pull-out, drop-down steps and the NFPA's slip-resistance requirements for walking surfaces. Open, clear and safe walkway surfaces for egress up and down the aerial device is another important safety feature that customers request. This often involves the elimination of impediments to keep walkways completely free for firefighters. When firefighters are moving tools and/or people up and down an aerial, it's important to remove any electrical cables, electrical tracks and cylinders that could reduce the walkway width or cause trip hazards.

Scene lighting also affects safety. There's been an increased use of indicators and strobes, and corresponding higher wattage requirements, including 110- and 220-volt lighting to the tip. The indicator strobe — a flashing light that sits under the basket or at the tip of the ladder — lets the turntable operator or someone on a roof know exactly where the aerial is located at all times and under any conditions. The use of lighting at the tip of the aerial has become more popular and has significantly improved firefighters' ability to focus light on the scene to improve safety and visibility during adverse conditions.

The ability to illuminate the rungs for improved visibility during low-light conditions is also requested in many specifications. This can be accomplished by placing lights on the sides of each section, or by using luminescent material that will illuminate during low-light conditions.

Luminescent materials reduce electrical connections and amp draw for the vehicle. They're either applied as an additional tape between rung covers or incorporated directly into the rung cover. Some of these materials will illuminate in low-light conditions for up to 12 hours without needing a light source to energize the material.

The use of 12-volt high-intensity discharge lighting in place of 110- and 220-volt lighting also is becoming more popular with many departments. The benefit of using HID technology for scene lighting is that the light output is typically more than three times greater, without the wattage requirement. With this type of technology, users are no longer required to run a generator to provide scene lighting from the aerial.

Equipment storage

As firefighters continue to expand the use of the aerial apparatus, requests to mount different types of loose equipment at the tip of the aerial or in the basket will continue to increase. To allow for the vast amount of equipment at the tip, aerial loose equipment allowances have continued to increase.

The ability to mount equipment on the aerial closer to where it will be used is a significant benefit to firefighters. By mounting the equipment where it's needed, firefighters no longer have to carry it from the apparatus compartments to the tip of the aerial, making their climbs up and down the aerial device safer. Their fireground performance also becomes more efficient.

Aerial baskets are being designed to provide increased space for firefighters to maneuver during operations. The baskets have been designed to incorporate full heat shields to improve protection and moveable controls so that the basket operator can have the best visibility possible. Basket doors have been improved to allow for easy entry and exit without requiring gates to be raised and lowered. In addition, stokes basket mounts, rapelling arms, winch mounts, roof ladder mounts for below-grade accessibility and lifting eye mounts, are all very popular.

Both aerial ladders and platforms are being designed to incorporate ground ladder mounts in the fly and base sections. Using a roof ladder from this location is easier than pulling it from the ladder storage on the ground and carrying it up the aerial. Stokes basket storage brackets or boxes on the base of the aerial also are very popular with many departments. Again, this allows for the stokes basket to be stored closer to where it will be used. It also frees up up valuable compartment space.

Finally, ax and pike pole mounts in the fly section give fire departments the ability to store more equipment where it is needed, as well as increase the amount of equipment the vehicle can carry to the scene, because they don't take away from the other storage requirements that are planned for the apparatus compartmentation.

As fireground operations continue to change, the requirements for manufacturers to design new options will continue to increase. Safety for firefighters, new NFPA standards and new technologies continue to require aerial manufacturers to upgrade their aerial systems and options. Design of these components and systems are relied on during the dangers of each response.

Testing these new designs, components and systems for reliability is absolutely critical. For the sake of the safety of firefighters and first responders, manufacturers should only offer any technology when it has passed the grade and gone through extensive durability and performance tests.

Kent Pauli is the aerial product manager at Pierce Manufacturing, Appleton, Wis., where he has worked in various capacities for nine years. He is active with multiple NFPA committees, in addition to serving on the Pierce team that worked toward receiving the Standard of the Canadian ULC-S-515-04, which sets the standard for requirements and performance for all aspects of fire apparatus, including the aerial. He has an engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin.

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