National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Snow Chains

It is an understatement to say that this year’s winter weather has placed a strain on many fire departments in the United States and Canada. Fire crews have been taxed and challenged by the weather in ways that have required innovative thinking and good street sense. Applying snow chains to fire apparatus is one of the traditional rituals recreated countless times in fire stations that experience cumulating snow. The process seems simple enough. If you are lucky, you get to “chain ’em up” before the rig hits the street for its first run. If you are not lucky, you’ll end up with sleeves full of slush as you chain the apparatus after a couple of runs in the snow. There are other dangers associated with applying snow chains as we see in this week’s featured report:

On the eve of a major winter storm our department was asked to place the tire chains onto the engines. Our department used to drive up onto large 4 foot, 4×4 hardwood blocks/cribbing, to lift the rear of the truck up just enough to get the chains on easily. While wearing full turnout gear as per protocol, the block of wood on the officers side exploded due to the weight of the vehicle. The explosion sent pieces of wood from the size of tooth picks to the size of kitchen knives across the station over 25 feet away and over 10 feet in the air. It sounded like a shotgun blast and caused damage to the rear of other vehicles parked in the bays and other equipment. By chance, everyone was standing toward the front of the engine and received no injuries but all involved were mentally “shaken up”.

Lessons Learned

It was determined that 4×4 wood block/cribbing is not safe to be used to support a vehicle of that size. Someone could have been seriously injured or killed. Our department cannot afford large jacks but we have now upgraded to 8×8 railroad ties.

Fortunately, there were no injuries in this event. The submitter notes later in the narrative that this was “by chance.” Lifting the rear half of a 20-ton piece of apparatus is no small feat, nor should it be assumed to be a “routine” activity. Consider the following:
  1. The engine in this report drove up onto the hardwood block before the block exploded. A 4×4 (actual dimension 3.5×3.5) hardwood block can support approximately 6000lbs. What is the estimated weight of an engine in your department and how much of that weight is carried by each tire?
  2. What alternative resources might be available in your community to assist with lifting apparatus when chains need to be applied?
  3. How often are tire chains inspected in your department?
  4. What are the signs that a tire chain is in need of replacement?
  5. Who serves as the safety officer when activities like applying tire chains are underway?
Have a near miss related to snow chains? Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow.
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.

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