A New Approach to Standardization
An interesting study titled “A Survey of Human Factors Engineering Problems in Firefighting Equipment has recently been published. Prepared for the Office of Civil Defense, Department of the Army, by Serendipity Associates of California, it has limited distribution at present but many fire and research officials have been presented copies.
The report consists of observations of a research team which cataloged problems of fire fighting equipment design and the adverse effects on fire fighters’ efficiency. The team primarily studied the apparatus, equipment and personnel of the Los Angeles City Fire Department. This was done by observation at drill sessions and at actual fires, by informal interviews with fire department personnel, and by reviewing the attitude-survey and suggestion system employed by the Los Angeles department.
A close look at the efforts of the researchers indicates it contains quite a lot of food for thought. For the first time a team of scientists, unacquainted with and therefore unbiased by tradition or everyday experience in fire fighting, has studied fire fighting apparatus, communications and breathing apparatus in relation to effective use. They have revealed some interesting and frequently overlooked areas which have troubled many fire fighters since the outset of their careers.
For example the research team wondered if proper attention had been given to the fact that fire fighters as a class are taller and heavier than the average man due to entrance requirements. This could mean that design of various items should be based on a special fire fighter average rather than the general public.
The team questioned a number of items on pumper operating panels. The functional relations between pump gages, pump controls and discharge gate controls were studied. Arrangement for easy reading, readv identification and efficient operation were noted.
Recommendations were made to overcome some of the common deficiencies which trouble only apparatus operators and training officers. These may be subjects of frequent complaint but are lost in the welter of more pressing administrative problems. Included in this area was the increasing complexity of controls on modern pumpers. Lack of uniformity—as well as shape coding—was noted, which complicates operations.
Similar notations were reported for aerial ladder operations which depend on fewer, but just as important, gages and control levers. Lack of communication between the operator at the turntable level and a laddennan at the tip of the fly was of serious concern.
Breathing apparatus also received close scrutiny. Of concern were ease of use, ill-fitting facepieces, poor design visibility and lack of voice communication when wearing a mask.
The report states in its conclusion that design deficiencies of equipment are frequently offset by extensive training and experience. It notes, however, that this acts to narrow the possible proficiency range and fire fighters tend to become expert with only a few specific items in their training or experience range.
At the outset, there has been some criticism of this report as being somewhat juvenile in approach. However, human factors engineering is new to the fire service. It is presently employed mainly by the military to design machines to fit the man who must operate them. This is in contrast to the traditional practice of building equipment to do a job and then training personnel to master its intricacies.
This report is a contribution to basic practical fire service research. As it receives greater distribution, and the fire service becomes better acquainted with its approach, it is possible to foresee many benefits arising from continued and extended study of this area. Greater standardization of equipment, increased training ease and employment as well as more efficient manufacturing procedures can result.
OCD is to be complimented for initiating this study. For many years fire service officials have discussed at length the possibilities of standardization of fire fighting apparatus and equipment. This report could well point the way toward a proper approach to this elusive objective.