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NFPA 1901 & FAMA Signs: Sensible or Nonsensical? Part 2

By Bill Adams

Part 1 illustrated this writer’s opinion that the requirement for and installation of “warning signs” on fire apparatus could be scrutinized. This part further investigates the whys and wherefores of providing signage. There is no intent to disparage any effort to protect firefighters from injury or harm. However, too many signs plastered all over a fire truck may breed an atmosphere of complacency. Crying wolf too often could inadvertently create an indifference to warning signs.

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Ten bi-lingual signs on each door of a four door cab is 40 signs! Photo of a British Columbia delivery courtesy of John Witt, President of Safetek Profire

What is a Safety Sign?

The National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus sentence 3.3.162 defines a sign as: “A visual indication whether in pictorial or word format that provides a warning to the operator or other persons near the apparatus.” Although the intent is commendable, it can be questioned whether the requirement is actually to protect firefighters, those “other persons” or the manufacturers.

NFPA 1901 makes references to the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association (FAMA) document TC010 Standard Product Safety Sign Catalog for Automotive Fire Apparatus, TC008 Graphic Symbols for Automotive Fire Apparatus and American National Standards Institute/National Electrical Manufacturers Association (ANSI/NEMA) document Z535.4.

TC010 shows 55 signs are available to satisfy 21 safety “topics” and TC008 shows 81 “graphics” that are acceptable. To further confuse the issue, the TC010 document shows signage meeting ANSI criteria as well as ISO. Perhaps manufacturers can pick and choose ones best matching the décor of their apparatus.

Want to harass a newbie on your apparatus purchasing committee? During the final inspection of a new rig, ask him or her to determine if the signage provided is in full compliance with NFPA, FAMA, ANSI and NEMA.

Ask your apparatus vendor what is the difference in the requirements for signs titled DANGER or CAUTION or WARNING or one that merely makes a statement. Is one more important than the other? Are there penalties if they are not followed?

Litigation

I believe the fear of litigation is a driving force behind the number and scope of safety signs manufacturers place on a fire truck. Paraphrasing online definitions of litigation: “When a person claims to suffer a physical, financial or emotional loss or harm as a result of the negligence of another person, an organization or governmental agency – that person may seek the services of a personal injury lawyer to determine said negligence and legal liability.”

Simply put, whoever gets hurt (or their next of kin) might file a civil suit against the fire department, the apparatus manufacturer as well as the apparatus component part manufacturers, dealers, and local vendors. It might not matter if the claim is justifiable. Compensating firefighters for injuries is justifiable and commendable. Bringing a lawsuit for nefarious reasons is not. Differentiating between the two is difficult.

There is no accusation that apparatus manufacturers are solely protecting themselves against frivolous lawsuits. However, one wonders if that could be a contributing factor – especially when component part suppliers are also putting warning labels on their products.

Whose Responsibility?

The TC010 document states it is the product manufacturer’s obligation to warn of hazards; the seriousness of the hazard; how bad you can get hurt; and how to avoid the hazard. Is all that information necessary to inform firefighters immediately prior to performing their duties?

NFPA 1901 sentence 4.21* Statement of Exceptions allows exceptions to the standard’s requirements provided they are listed and it is mutually agreed upon by buyer and seller who will rectify the situation before a rig placed in service. Sometimes the exception is not resolved and often is intentionally ignored. A prime example is the color of rear chevrons.

A purchaser should have the option to say they don’t want all those signs on the rig and will “educate” firefighters as to the hazards prior to the rig being placed in service. They can even provide refresher education once a year and have the firefighters “sign off” after receiving it.

When firefighters are hired or accepted as volunteers, there is an indoctrination period and required training before they become active. That is when the hazards of “working off a fire truck” should be taught as well as during refresher training. Who really looks at warning signs at 3 in the morning when you’ve got a worker with people trapped; time is of essence; and the chief is jumping up and down on the front lawn?

NFPA 1901 is very specific in addressing hazards in the driving and crew cabs on fire apparatus including sentences:

* 14.1.2 A label that states the number of personnel the vehicle is designed to carry shall be located in an area visible to the driver.

* 14.1.3.7 Safety sign FAMA07, which warns of the importance of seat belt use, shall be visible from each seat that is intended to be occupied while the vehicle is in motion.

* 14.1.3.8 Safety sign FAMA06 shall be visible from each seat that is not equipped with occupant restraint and therefore not intended to be occupied while the vehicle is in motion.       

* 14.1.7.4.3 Safety sign FAMA15, which warns not to wear helmets while the vehicle is in motion, shall be visible from each seat that is intended to be occupied while the vehicle is in motion.

* 14.1.10.3 Cab Equipment Mounting. Safety sign FAMA10, which warns of the need to secure items in the cab, shall be visible inside the cab.

* 15.7.1.5 Climbing Method Instruction. Safety sign FAMA23, which warns of the proper climbing method, shall be visible to personnel entering the cab and at each designated climbing location on the body.

* There’s twice as many warning signs applicable to the operation of aerial devices.

* An overkill catchall – in my opinion – is safety sign FAMA25, which warns of the need for training prior to operating the apparatus. It shows a graphic of an open book that must be located on the pump operator’s panel. Brilliant – read the textbook before charging the preconnect.

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If NFPA 1901 mandates any more signs on the fire apparatus there may not be enough metal left to paint. It is doubtful warning signs are going to stop an aggressive personal injury attorney from going after deep pockets if – unfortunately – a firefighter does something absolutely stupid on the fire ground. The lawyer might say the warning sign wasn’t in the right place, or it was the wrong color, or it was dirty, or had confusing verbiage, or the graphic was misleading. Some respondents in civil lawsuits may be coerced into settling in order to make a perceived problem go away and to avoid negative publicity.

An abundance of warning verbiage could be confusing on already cluttered operator panels and be detrimental to the safe efficient operation of the pump operator. Warning signs will not prevent all injuries nor will they heal an injury. Comprehensive training, education and common sense as well as personal accountability may help avoid an injury.

Accidents can and do happen – not all are avoidable. Firefighters should also assume some degree of personal responsibility.

If you think it is bad in the United States, the Canadian Parliament formally recognizes English and French as co-official languages of the country and all the warning signs on their fire apparatus have to be in those two languages. That’s their law.

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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