Inside the Apparatus Industry
Story & Photos by Bob Vaccaro


By now most of us have seen new apparatus deliveries with the new NFPA 1901-required reflective striping on the front and rear. Whether you like it or not, it’s here to stay. In my opinion, it really makes a vehicle stand out on a highway, which was the intent of the standard to begin with.

Anything we can do to improve apparatus visibility on the fireground or at accident scenes is a plus in my book. After all, it’s a simple fact that too many firefighters and EMS personnel have been seriously injured or killed by inattentive drivers—and this striping will help tremendously with visibility.

Pierce Harrisburg (Pa.) Wagon 3 front-bumper striping.

KME low hosebed.

Danko tanker rear striping.

Crimson rear striping on a Montgomery County (Md.) pumper.

In this column, I’ll detail the full standard and provide photos of actual apparatus sporting the stripes.

The Details
The 2009 Edition of NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus states the following:

15.9.3: Reflective Striping
15.9.3.1: A retroreflective stripe(s) shall be affixed to at least 50 percent of the cab and body length on each side, excluding the pump panel areas, and at least 25 percent of the width of the front of the apparatus.
• 15.9.3.1.1: The stripe or combination of stripes shall be a minimum of 4 inches in total width.
• 15.9.3.1.2: The 4-inch-wide stripe or combination of stripes shall be permitted to be interrupted by objects (receptacles, cracks between slats in roll-up doors) provided that the full stripe is seen as conspicuous when approaching the apparatus.
• 15.9.3.1.3: A graphic design shall be permitted to replace all or part of the required striping material if the design or a combination thereof covers at least the same perimeter lengths as required by 15.9.3.1.

15.9.3.2: At least 50 percent of the rear-facing vertical surfaces, visible from the rear of the apparatus, excluding any pump panel areas not covered by a door, shall be equipped with retroreflective striping in a Chevron pattern, sloping downward and away from the center line of the vehicle at an angle of 45 degrees.
• 15.9.3.2.1: Each stripe in the Chevron shall be a single color alternating between red and either yellow, fluorescent yellow or fluorescent yellow-green.
• 15.9.3.2.2: Each stripe shall be 6 inches in width.

15.9.3.3: All retroreflective materials required by 15.9.3.1 and 15.9.3.2 shall conform to the requirements of ASTM D 4956, Standard Specification for Retroreflective Sheeting for Traffic Control, Section 6.1.1 for Type I Sheeting.
• 15.9.3.3.1: All retroreflective materials used to satisfy the requirements of 15.9.3.1 that are not colors listed in ASTM D shall have a coefficient of retroflection of 10 with observation angle of 0.2 degrees and an entrance angle of -4 degrees.
• 15.9.3.3.2: Fluorescent yellow and fluorescent yellow-green retroreflective materials used to meet the requirements of 15.9.3.2 shall conform to the minimum requirements specified for yellow Type I Sheeting in ASTM d 4956, Section 6.1.1
• 15.9.3.3.3: Any printed or processed retroreflective film construction used to meet the requirements of 15.9.3.1 and 15.9.3.2 shall conform to the standards required of an integral colored film as specified in ASTM D 4956 section 6.1.1.

Now, are you totally baffled and think you need a degree in mechanical engineering to understand all the details of this standards? Don’t feel bad. All the apparatus manufacturer engineers will guide you in the right direction and show you how the striping looks on drawings before you build your apparatus.

In any case, you’ll have a safer apparatus for your people to operate on and around. Let’s take a look at some of these designs.

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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Comment by Kathy Williams on April 2, 2010 at 11:01am
It is certainly true that people often don't know what their mirrors are for (to see other traffic), they don't check them (to see changing traffic conditions like spotting a big red truck coming), they don't know enough to move over and stop, and they are often listening to music so loud they can't hear the sirens. They are often distracted by medications, in-vehicle activities, activities outside the vehicle, or daydreaming, or whatever (being contacted by "martians" who knows with some people??) that they are not paying proper attention to their driving. Even though what is coming is, as Jason says, a huge red truck with flashing lights all over it, they will not react appropriately, with or without reflective markings.

However, I believe that the reflective striping is excellent at night in improving visibility of the vehicle, and also making it much easier to spot when the fire apparatus is parked. All of the above reasons for inattention are magnified at night, in other words, people are even worse at night, and added to that are the people that can't see properly to drive at night but do so anyway. In my book, anything that improves the visibility of the fire apparatus and firefighters is excellent. I don't think it detracts from the attractiveness of the vehicles and it adds to safety.

As a matter of fact, I added reflective striping to all four sides of my personal vehicle (it is in good taste, it is the subtle reflective silver one, not the bright in-your-face yellow/red one, it blends in with the silver paint on my vehicle in the day, and provides much greater safety for me driving or parking at night, in that my vehicle is not hit by another driver).
Comment by Jason Edwards on April 1, 2010 at 8:59am
Sure the striping makes you more visible; particularly at night if it's the reflective ScotchLite variety and once we're all used to it, we won't mind the looks so much. Our department has been taking delivery on these striped apparatus' for at least a year now. However, if people don't (I didn't say "can't") see a huge red truck with flashing lights all over it, I can't imagine the stripes are going to make much difference. If you're on scene and checking out the stripe job on your new truck, don't do so UNTIL YOU'VE LOOKED FOR CARS COMING AT YOU!! :)

I almost got creamed setting my wheel chocks a couple of months ago because one of our beloved tax paying citizens was so busy trying to crane his neck to see why all the trucks were there, that he almost hit me, side-swiped my truck and ran over a section of our 5" supply line.

We can't fix STUPID!! All we can do is our very best to stay out of the way of it. Stay aware and stay safe!
Comment by Kurt Becker on March 31, 2010 at 2:26pm
At first i thought this was a bad idea, bringing down the trucks looks and design, but after my department replaced its 95 foot tower ladder it was then mandatory that all rigs have the striping, so the company came up with an idea, the american flag on the back of the rig, it looks amazing, and after seeing it at numerous alarms i think the company went the right way with the striping, it is highly visible during the night, and looks like a regular paint job during the day, i think this is a great idea and it is going to limit fireground injuries, if the company does not like the striping then they should talk to the manafacturer about different patters, colors, layouts and ideas
Comment by Mark Klaene on March 27, 2010 at 5:18pm
I had serious doubts about this at first . was it actually telling drivers what we wanted them to know. I am still not convinced about how drivers are interrupting it but I know one thing it sure makes the vehicle stand out regardless of lights and with lights it is not overpowered. Arrow sticks (which I think are very useful) do get loss mixed in with the chevron. This is likely more of an issue with the light stick than the Chevron but the jury is still out on this until I see it addressed and someone try to solve the problem.

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