Ergonomics in Apparatus Design -- Where Are We Now?

A review of some of the safety-related design changes I’m seeing
Story & Photos by Bob Vaccaro

If you’ve been reading my columns over the past several years, then you’ve probably heard me use the term “ergonomics” many times. I guess when I like a word, I tend to use it a lot—sorry to be redundant! What’s more interesting: Apparatus manufacturers seem to like the word as well.

I didn’t invent the word “ergonomics” or force apparatus manufacturers to use it in apparatus design. Although I’d like to think that I have that power, unfortunately, I don’t. I think the manufacturers have an abundance of engineers who can figure that out for themselves.

Smeal's ergonomic hose load features ground-level packing of hose.

A Rosenbauer aerial seat

A Ferrara low hosebed

But I am hoping I’ve persuaded some of you to think outside the box when you’re designing your new apparatus. Basically, I’d like your vehicles to incorporate designs that promote firefighter safety and ease of operations for your members. And if you’re at all unsure about where to begin, just check out what’s happening at different trade shows or visit an apparatus manufacturer’s factory. It’s easy to gain a lot of insight into what’s out there.

Some safety-related or ergonomic designs being incorporated into apparatus:
  • Low hosebeds or hose loads
  • Access ladders to reach the turntables of aerial ladders that are built into the rear of the body
  • Rescue tools mounted on the front bumper for easy access
  • Remote-control deluge guns that prevent having to climb to the top of the pumper body
  • Intakes and discharges located away from the pump panel
  • Seating and joystick control for aerial ladder operation
These are just a few of the most common items that I’m seeing more and more on new deliveries around the country.

Although the fire service has traditionally been slow to adapt to change, it seems that it has seen a great deal of progressive growth in the past five years when it comes to safety in apparatus design. Plus, the new standards promoted by NFPA 1901 are great, with newer ideas that will prevail in the future.

Some of you might not agree with all of these new innovations, but for the most part, you have to admit that they can save firefighter lives in the long run.

Let’s hope we can continue to share ideas and innovations when it comes to apparatus design so that we can continue to make our apparatus safer to operate and respond with. Isn’t saving the lives of others (as well as our own) what this is all about?

Bob Vaccaro has more than 30 years of fire-service experience. He is a former chief of the Deer Park (N.Y.) Fire Department. Vaccaro has also worked for the Insurance Services Office, The New York Fire Patrol and several major commercial insurance companies as a senior loss-control consultant. Vaccaro is a life member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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