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What About the Officer?

By Ricky Riley

I recently had the opportunity to visit a few other departments that were doing training sessions and as always I was drawn to their apparatus floors. I spent time looking the rigs over, opening doors, and seeing how the departments spec’d their apparatus as well as what new and inventive ideas they came up with. A few months ago I wrote about the seating configurations for firefighters who ride in the rear of the apparatus but I did not spend much time on the person that blows the siren and air horn from the right front seat.

That seat is not an easy one to sit in for many tactical and leadership reasons, but that is not the focus of this article. This article is about the space we allow for them—the space to do all the activities they need to do going to an incident and operating once they arrive.

One of the first things to consider in relation to the officer’s space is the cab width. Depending on the unit, manufactures offer a 96- or a 100-inch cab width. These widths come on different chassis and offer various options that could meet a department’s needs. You should evaluate these different options to determine what best meets your department’s objectives.

Let’s look at the position of the officer’s seat and what that person has to do and manipulate while responding. First, for the cab space you picked, how does the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) seat ride for the officer? Does it push him forward? Does it allow for adjustments based on individual preference or sizes? Is it a stationary seat or air ride? When dealing with the rig builder, we should determine how the seat is mounted and if there is another way it can be mounted to allow more room for our officers, regardless of their size. When asking these questions, the safety features of our new cabs must be also taken into consideration. As an example, how will the vehicle’s roll-over airbag deploy? Will it cover the officer if we’ve made seating arrangement adjustments to the seat mounting? Take a look at the variety of seat manufacturers on the market and determine what’s best for SCBA deployment. Also consider how the seat allows adjustments for officers of various sizes and if it’s going to interfere with our operations inside the cab. Don’t settle for standard.

We picked the seat that’s best for our rig, so let’s move on to another concern. What is the floor room for the officer? This is where we’ll be storing our bunker pants and boots while out on the street. When they’re there, does it even allow you to put your feet on the floor or do you have to cram your feet in? Of course the bigger the person and shoe size, the more this space will be decreased. I’m not suggesting that you design your rig around each person, but for just the average officer, this can be a challenge. When we look at apparatus, we usually don’t do it with full personal protective equipment (PPE), SCBA, and everything mounted in the cab plus the officer’s stuff spread out all over the cab. I do advocate that when you look at cabs you wear all the PPE and all your normal equipment so you can have a real picture of how cramped it’s going to be. This exercise just might drive you from a 96-inch to 100-inch cab.

The area on the dash in front of the officer is also a valuable space today. This is where, historically, a company would place a map book. But, today that area has a lot of competition from mobile data terminals, storage areas, and angled map holders. This is also a great place to put the frontal collision airbag and cab chassis electrical systems. So, take your pick of what you want to put there and prepare for sacrifice because what does not fit there now has to be put somewhere else in the cab and may not be as convenient. How important is the piece of equipment to the officer while responding when it’s no longer in front of him?

As we spread out in the cab, the engine tunnels and the back of the driver’s control centers come into play. Exactly how much room do you have on the flat surface to the officers left? Is this now where the computer is going to go? And, is it stored with screen up or down? Is it in the way of the driver’s view of the mirror on the right side of the rig? Is this where you throw your PPE, and what is it covering up that needs to be accessible? And, where do all the radios go, plus the microphones and associated cords? What about headsets? Where do they mount and how do you transmit? Is it on the control box and can you reach it with all your PPE in the cab? Where are the siren and air horn controls? Can you depress them with the floor cluttered, or are they up on the dash that requires a finger to press for activation? Hopefully your hands are looking in map books and using the mobile data terminal to access information for your call. But if you can’t reach the controls, you might be sacrificing information and directions to use audible warning devices. Yes, that is a lot of questions and what ifs. But, they all will need to be answered so your officer’s seat is functional and user-friendly.

Cab clutter can be a safety issue also, and you have to look at how much stuff is loose and not bolted down or secured. All of this can cause injury if the rig is involved in an accident—regardless of the severity. When these things go flying around, they are very indiscriminate with who they will hit and how far they will travel in the cab. So, lock down or mount as much as you can in the cab. Also, be sure to look at National Fire Protection Association (NPFA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus concerning what can be in the cab and how it needs to be secured.

The officer’s space in your apparatus is the starting point for success on an incident. We direct the rig to calls from that space, communicate with dispatch centers, receive scene information from computers and tablets, and access preplan information. That is while in donned PPE, activating audible warning devices, putting on our SCBA, and being seat belted. Oh, and help the driver watch out for traffic because the roads are full of distracted drivers.

I urge you to look at this portion of your next apparatus and design it around all the functions that we expect of our officers. Don’t settle for a standard configuration that we are offered by the builders. Take a hard look at this space and all the options that could increase this area and make it more functional. And, please give the officer some room to work.

RICKY RILEY is operations chief for the Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and a member of the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief of department. He also served for 20 years with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue before his retirement in 2005.

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