Fire Engineering Senior Editor Mary Jane Dittmar posed this question to some of our FDIC International instructors: During the past year, was there an event, an occurrence, or a bit of knowledge you came across that moved you to think, “Wow! I must remember to include that in my FDIC class or workshop this year?”
Response from Raul Angulo:
I was walking the show floor at last year’s Fire Department Instructors Conference International when I heard this guy speaking, and I heard this occasional loud “snap.” The booth drew a crown and my curiosity. I met Dave Breiner, an apparatus operator and firefighter/paramedic with the East Hartford (CT) Fire Department, and he was enthusiastically talking about his new product that looked like a gigantic red clothespin. It was clamped to a section of 1¾-inch hose. When Dave pulled the giant red clothespin away from the hose, it would snap shut and an alarm would sound. Well, I had never seen one of those things before, so I decided to join the crowd to see what all the commotion was about.
He asked me, “Have you ever been driving down the road with the rig and have all the hose accidentally deploy, dumping the entire hose bed on the road before anyone noticed?” I immediately started to laugh, as did he. I thought to myself, “How did he know?” It’s happened to me, too. He continued, “It actually happens a lot but no one is willing to admit it. It’s one of those embarrassing questions like, ‘Have you ever been caught sitting on the toilet when the bell hit?’ Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.”
The giant red clothespin is called Hose Alert, and it was invented by Dave after he dumped the entire large diameter hose (LDH) bed of Engine 1 on to Silver Lane. They were backing the engine into the station when this kid came riding up on his bicycle, “Hey fireman!….” Dave yelled at the crew, “Hey guys! Get back on the rig! We gotta go!” After turning the corner, he could see 1,000 feet of five-inch LDH laying all the way down Silver Lane! Since it was also 10°F, they reluctantly called the truck to help load hose…and he paid for that. He said to his buddy, “You know, if there was a buzzer to let me know the hose came off the rig, I would have stopped!” He started thinking that there had to be a way to alert the driver when hose is accidentally deployed, much like a buzzer sounds in the cab when a compartment door becomes ajar or flies open. In fact, many apparatuses also have a warning light in the cab in addition to an audible alarm so when a compartment door is opened, the driver can immediately stop the rig.
Hose Alert debuted at the FDIC International 2016. It is a simple concept to alert the driver when any hose is detached or deployed from the engine, either intentionally or unintentionally. The red clothespin is actually a spring-loaded, hose-gripping unit that clamps on to the top flake in the hosebed or hose slot. The Hose Alert clamp is tethered and anchored to the apparatus with a thin, nonobtrusive steel cable, which doesn’t interfere or gets caught when pulling off hose. When the hose is deployed or removed for any reason, the gripping unit is pulled away from the hose and the contact sensors connect, which sends an electronic signal to the dash unit control screen inside the cab. The alarm immediately sounds notifying the driver that a hose load has accidentally been deployed. The driver can stop in a timely and safe manner before hundreds of feet of hose is laid out in the street.
A Change of Mind
My first thought after looking at Hose Alert was that, although it was a cool system, I felt it wasn’t necessary. After all, we have too many electronic systems and screens on the apparatus already! As I was about to wish Dave good luck on his new product, he encouraged me check out the civilian fatalities, injuries, and property damage that was caused by fire hose accidentally falling off fire engines—so I did. What a sobering investigation; what I once thought was a funny episode out of firefighter follies became the realization that a loose, uncharged fire hose with a nozzle at the end is a deadly instrument.
A headline in the August 21, 2004, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette read:
“Girl dies after being struck by hose from fire truck. Authorities baffled by bizarre accident.”
It was a Thursday afternoon on August 19 when the engine of the Coraopolis (PA) Volunteer Fire Department was pulling the hill on Chess St. They were responding to a reported basement fire on the 400 block of Mount Vernon Ave. As they were approaching the intersection, about 30 feet of 1¾-inch hose came out of the Mattydale (crossload) slot. The nozzle caught the edge of a car tire and deployed the rest of the load, taking out a birdbath and two hibiscus plants before the tension pulled the nozzle loose, causing it to swing around like a giant whip. The six-pound nozzle struct two 10-year-old girls on the right side of their heads. One was killed as a result of a brain stem injury and the other was seriously injured and disfigured. The noise of the diesel engine climbing the hill, the siren, and the fact that the crew had already donned their SCBA face pieces prevented them from hearing or noticing what just happened. Two years later a jury awarded the families five million dollars.
On January 26, 2010, an 82-year old female was standing on a traffic island waiting for a Cambridge (MA) fire engine to pass by as it responded to a water leak. About 150 feet of fire hose with a nozzle attached was accidentally deployed and dangling behind the apparatus. The hose whipped around like a slingshot and struck the woman. She died two days later from her injuries.
It happened again on October 18, 2014. A 58-year-old male was riding his bicycle when a Toledo (OH) fire engine on an emergency response lost 150 feet of 1¾-inch hose and the nozzle struck the cyclist, killing him. The force behind the hose was so strong, it yanked the rear wheel off the bicycle.
In 2002, Tualatin Valley (OR) Fire and Rescue accidentally dropped hose off one of their apparatus, which was thought to be the cause of a motor vehicle accident (MVA) that killed a 41-year old man from St. Helens. On October 22, 2013, a Troy (MI) fire engine accidentally dumped a hose load on the freeway that damaged 12 vehicles and ran over the deployed hose lay. On December 24, 2013, a fire truck accidentally deployed hose damaging several vehicles in the northbound lanes of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. In February 2014, a Vancouver (WA) fire apparatus dumped 800 feet of LDH on the Glen Jackson Bridge, causing a two-car accident.
One of my colleagues, David Durstine, wrote an article for Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment magazine back in May 2013 titled, “How Do You Secure Your Hose?” He wrote about his engine from the Apple Creek (OH) Volunteer Fire Department responding to a vehicle fire when a gust of wind caught a section of four-inch LDH. The company laid out the entire hose bed—1,000 feet of hose—going 55 miles per hour. You can’t help but laugh visualizing this evolution. Durstine did mention the Coraopolis fatality incident with the little girl, but not until the fifth paragraph, and I’m embarrassed to say I either glossed over it or missed it completely; that is why I lead with that incident. I don’t want you to miss it.
Another article worth reading is “Once Around” (FireEngineering.com, 2/8/2011) by Loren Charlston and Warren Merrit. Their story leads with five Washington State firefighters on a motorcycle road trip who almost got taken out when they suddenly rode up on a rolled section of 2½-inch hose in the middle of the highway.
It is hard to keep up with all the national emergency and nonemergency fire service news, but I must tell you, these stories got past me. I was shocked to hear about them, not so much about the accidental hose deployments (I’m sure most firefighters are aware that this happens). It’s not as rare as you think; we’re bound to experience it or hear about it within our departments once or twice throughout our careers. It’s usually a professional embarrassment for the driver and the crew, so unless there’s an incident, everyone inside the cone of silence is sworn to secrecy. No crew wants to be the butt of the joke or departmentwide ribbing for laying out the entire LDH hose inventory on the highway. However, with cell phones everywhere, it is probably impossible to cover this event up without some civilian video recording it and posting it on social media. What was shocking to me were the civilian injuries and deaths from getting smacked with a nozzle and hose! I’m still shaking my head, and there’s even more examples of incidents where fire hose accidentally deployed from a moving fire apparatus—just check the internet and YouTube.
It’s incredible that with the associated fatalities, injuries, MVAs, and property damage caused by the accidental deployment of hose from a responding or moving fire apparatus that the fire service hasn’t launched a major national campaign. Maybe they have, but I wasn’t aware of it.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2003 Edition
NFPA added an amendment to the ’03 Standard that became effective on November 18, 2008. Section 15.10.7 now reads:
Any hose storage area shall be equipped with a positive means to prevent unintentional deployment of the hose from the top, sides, front, and rear of the hose storage area while the apparatus is underway in normal operations.
Many fire departments have experienced fire hose inadvertently coming off the fire apparatus while traveling to and from incidents. Several incidents have resulted in personal injury and damage to property. At least one death is directly attributed to an unintentional deployment of fire hose during a response. It is imperative the fire apparatus manufacturer provide and the fire department use a means to assure this does not occur. Fire departments and manufacturers have developed various methods of preventing inadvertent deployment of fire hose, including fully enclosed hose bed covers, buckled straps, hooks and loops (Velcro) fabric covers, webbing, mesh, wind deflectors, and other material restraints or a combination of restraints.
The problem with this wording is that it still gives fire departments a lot of leeway to interpret what works best for their operations, and the proper function of the restraint system is dependent on firefighters actually securing them as designed. Procedures, actions, and safety devices where firefighters feel it delays or hinders their ability to quickly respond, tend to get ignored. Just look at seat belts or stopping for red lights at an intersection; if we can’t get 100 percent compliance with firefighters wearing seat belts, should we expect the hose will be secured 100 percent of the time?
Another problem is that this wording doesn’t consider that, in many of these accidental deployments, the driver and crew were not aware any hose had fallen off the rig. The sirens, air horns, and the roar of the diesel engines are overwhelming stimuli, and it’s almost impossible to feel when equipment has fallen off the rig. The driver is busy watching the road, the officer is looking at the dispatch information on the mobile data computer, and the firefighters are securing their personal protective equipment and SCBA. Although these restraint systems may hold the hose loads in place, if the hose does fall out (even partially), none of these systems alert the driver in the cab that a section of hose fell off. That’s why I was “wowed” by Dave Breiner’s Hose Alert system. It was a firefighter’s common sense solution to a deadly problem.
Every fire department mission statement includes our core values of saving lives and saving property, yet we’re killing and injuring innocent civilian bystanders and damaging millions of dollars of property responding to alarms to carry out our mission statement. Often, the only civilian fatalities or injuries from the incident occurred on the response route—before the fire department even arrived on scene of the emergency. This is crazy! We must quit killing and injuring civilians with loose fire hose!
Yes, I am going to announce this and talk about this issue in my workshop. I have a section in Drills You’re Not Going to Find in the Books about checking equipment and hose loads and making sure the nozzle is securely attached to the hose. In past workshops, it was kind of a basic starter drill that I inserted before working into more challenging drills. In light of these new case studies (new to me because it has been happening since 2004), it will give a sobering importance to seriously securing hose loads.