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NFPA 1901 & FAMA Signs: Sensible or Nonsensical? Part 1

By Bill Adams

The tones dropped and everyone headed for the rig. The chauffer fired up the motor as the lieutenant impatiently waited for the crew to load up. One jumped in behind the officer’s seat while two others stood outside intently staring at the opened roadside crew cab door. “C’mon let’s go” was answered by “be right there” followed by Now – dammit.” “We’re almost done” was followed by the lieutenant’s unprintable exclamation.

Why do the front doors on this rig have six signs?

While the rear doors have only three?

After the run, the lieutenant chastised the crew. “Wait a minute Lo. We did exactly what we’re supposed to do.” The lieutenant replied: “That’s a line of bull. You’re just trying to fire me up.”  The crew retaliated: “Those signs are on the rig for a purpose – for us to read. They say warning, danger and caution. They’re important. If they didn’t want us to read them, they wouldn’t put them on every cab door. We’re obligated to follow them.” The final jab was when they said: “You know – there’s a half dozen signs on each door and the print’s real small. They’re hard to read – it takes a while.”  

That wasn’t a true story. It’s a fictional depiction of how outlandish this writer believes the requirement for posting signage on fire apparatus has and could become. The statements made herein are my personal opinion and do not reflect those of The Rig or its sponsors.

Is Common Sense a Lost Commodity?

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines common sense as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” Simply put, persons of reasonable intelligence understand if a bare hand is placed on a hot stove – you get burned. Likewise, if you get too close to a precipitous edge you could fall off and get seriously injured.

Most firefighters are of reasonable intelligence – if not more so – than the average person. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) trains and allows them to operate million-dollar vehicles under all sorts of stressful conditions. They are entrusted to mitigate multitudes of hazardous conditions, make life and death decisions, enter burning buildings and perform their duties in often unknown and most likely dangerous environments. It’s part of the job. The AHJ puts citizens’ lives in firefighters’ hands.

But, it appears the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) doesn’t think firefighters can figure out a crew cab’s capacity by merely counting the seats. They must not think firefighters are smart enough to realize they can get hurt in a vehicle accident if they’re not wearing a seat belt.  You would think most firefighters have figured out sirens are loud, and they should keep the cab windows rolled up or wear ear protection when responding.

Knowing one could get hurt by not climbing properly is tantamount to not eating yellow snow. That’s common sense.

Safety Training and Rules

New member training for career firefighters varies across the nation. One local fire chief said it takes about 800 hours. Another said 500 hours. Time on the job and additional training is required to become an apparatus driver, to operate the pumps and use an aerial device.

They said safety is emphasized and is an important part of all curriculums. Training and emphasis on safety varies within the volunteer ranks, however, the inherent dangers of the occupation are no less.

Training shouldn’t be less either. Repetitive safety training is common if not mandatory in both entities.

Are graphics really necessary showing the correct and wrong ways of climbing?

I find it inconceivable the number of safety signs and placards that NFPA Standard 1901 Automotive Fire Apparatus requires on fire apparatus. Apparently the NFPA must not believe fire departments do a proper job in firefighter safety training. Or, it must think when the tones drop all firefighter retention of training and common sense flies out the window.

Perhaps abbreviated safety briefing is required for each run?

Or maybe a clipboard can be provided where each crew member “signs off” before loading up. Foolish, isn’t it?

The fire service is a quasi-military organization. It has to be to operate effectively and efficiently on the fireground. Lives may depend on doing so. Rules are rules and must be followed as do all commands and orders given on the fireground. Repercussions for not doing so should be swift, severe and non-negotiable.

But Why?

When officers give commands on the fireground, no sane or rational firefighter would ask “why” they should be followed. Ditto for a department’s written rules, regulations and SOPs (standard operating procedures). An SOP saying apparatus occupants “shall be” seated and belted is not negotiable. Don’t like it? Find another vocation.

When warning placards and signs “must be” on the apparatus, is it necessary to say what the physical ramifications may be if the direction is not followed?

Give firefighters some degree of common sense. Showing a depiction of a firefighter’s head falling off if the rig is involved in an accident and the firefighter was wearing a fire helmet borders on ridiculous – if not ludicrous, or just plain absurd.

Litigation

Are safety signs and placards actually intended to prevent injury to firefighters or to shield the manufacturers from lawsuits if a firefighter is injured while “interacting” with the apparatus?

Interacting includes getting into and out of the cab, climbing on or off the rig, and operating any attached component like a fire pump, aerial device, generator, deck gun, and so on.

Unless legally adopted by a political sub-division, an NFPA standard is a non-enforceable consensus document where compliance may be influenced by the threat of litigation “if something bad happens” if the standard is not followed.

The Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) has become involved by publishing several documents about safety signs which the NFPA references. A few statements from NFPA 1901 and its Appendix follow. Underlined numbers denote sentences’ location in the document.  The words “shall” and “should” are highlighted by me for emphasis.

NFPA 1901

3.3.162 Sign. A visual indication whether in pictorial or word format that provides a warning to the operator or other persons near the apparatus.

4.9.4.3* Safety signs referenced in this standard beginning with the letters FAMA shall conform to the text and graphics of the referenced safety sign number found in FAMA TC010, Standard Product Safety Sign Catalog for Automotive Fire Apparatus.

4.10.1.1 If external illumination is provided, it shall be a minimum of 5 fc (50 lx) on the face of the device.

4.10.1.2 If internal illumination is provided, it shall be a minimum of 4 fl (14 cd/m2).

4.10.2* All required signs, instruction plates, and labels shall be permanent in nature and securely attached and shall meet the requirements of 4.9.4 and ANSI/UL 969, Standard for Marking and Labeling Systems.

4.10.2.1 The signs, instruction plates, and labels shall have resistance to damage from temperatures between –30°F and 176°F (–35°C and 80°C) and exposure to oil, fuel, water, hydraulic fluids, or other fluids used on the apparatus.

4.10.2.2 The exterior mounted labels relating to safety or critical operational instructions shall be reflective or illuminated as required by 4.10.1.

4.10.5 Controls Labeling. Where controls will be labeled using graphical symbols, they shall conform to the common graphical symbols found in FAMA TC008, Graphical Symbols for Automotive Fire Apparatus.

A.4.9.4 Uniformity of safety signage is a desirable objective. Examples of common safety sign solutions are depicted in FAMA TC010, Standard Product Safety Sign Catalog for Automotive Fire Apparatus, and should be considered where deemed applicable by the manufacturer.

A.4.9.4.3 Font size, scaling, and aspect ratio can be adjusted if required to fit the physical restrictions of the apparatus.

A.4.10.2 All required signs, instruction plates, and labels should be highly visible and placed on the vehicle where they are not subject to damage from wear and tear.

***

Do signs protect the manufacturer or the firefighter? Are they really necessary? Is there really an NFPA police?

NFPA 1901 & FAMA Signs: Sensible or Nonsensical, Part 1

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These inter-cab signs, all from the same rig, do not seem to be consistent in size, shape, color, or messaging. Should they be? Does it really matter?

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

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