Apparatus & Equipment, Firefighting

National Firefighter Near Miss Featured Report: Step one, fall two

By Amanda McHenry
National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System

This week’s featured report focuses on where equipment is located on an apparatus and the behavioral effect the location has on accessing the equipment. The keyword “steps” was used in this week’s topic search on www.firefighternearmiss.com; the search returned 69 reports. Two themes arise using the keyword: the motion of placing one foot in front of the other and the constructed adjunct to help one move from one level to another. In both cases hazards are present that begin the chain linking process to injury.

“We have a mid-ship pump and behind the pump panel and before the hose bed starts, there is a box that stores the chain saw, circular saw, fuel, spare chains. There is no good access to this box. On the driver’s side we have flip down steps you can use to climb up and retrieve the saws. The location of the tools puts you in an awkward position to safely retrieve them. The steps are only wide enough for one foot at a time and are not directly in front of the box you are reaching into. This forces you to lean to your left and forward to try and grab the saw you need. This causes your weight to be out in front of you. This is hard on your back and an awkward position. This morning, during our thorough weekly inspections, the firefighter stumbled and…It was noted that this was not the first time this has happened…”

Fire apparatus manufacturers go to great lengths to design and build apparatus with the end users’ needs in mind. However, there are times when those needs and the human interface are diametrically opposed. In this week’s ROTW, heavy tools and equipment are stored in an overhead bin that has limited access. Personnel retrieving equipment from the driver’s side of the rig place themselves in precarious positions to retrieve the equipment. The poor footing and reach have resulted in more than one near miss. As each near miss occurs, the members move closer to experiencing an injury causing event that, even at a lower step fall, could end in serious injury. One trap we fall into is a fixated mindset. As a class we are an expediency driven workforce. We see the fold down steps leading up the side of the pumper. That is the most direct route to the overhead bin, even though they are not the most sure-footed. Our mind registers that there are insufficient grab rails, know we will assume an off balance position to lift the tool, will be lifting tools that are heavy and awkward to carry, then have to negotiate the fold down steps back to the ground with only one free hand. But, the job must get done; or is there another way?

After you have read the entire account HERE, consider the following:

1. Does your department store heavy and awkward equipment in overhead areas?

2. What factors went into the decision to place the equipment where it is located?

3. How do you (or your department) react to statements like, “…this was not the first time this has happened?” Take immediate action to correct the problem (either through re-engineering or human factors) or shrug it off as nothing can be done to correct the problem at your level?

4. Given the situation described in #08-314, what recommendations would you make to correct the problem?

5. Where does the greatest potential for prevention lie in this instance: modifying human behaviors or engineering re-designs?

Had near miss while climbing onto apparatus? Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com today. Take the first step to improve firefighter safety for your members and your brothers and sisters across the fire and emergency service.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.