Why are vehicles changing and why should firefighters care? First off, vehicles are changing in the United States because of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA has a legislative mandate to issue Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and Regulations to which manufacturers of motor vehicle and equipment items must conform and certify compliance. The requirements are designed "that the public is protected against unreasonable risk of crashes occurring as a result of the design, construction, or performance of motor vehicles and is also protected against unreasonable risk of death or injury in the event crashes do occur." The first standard to be implemented was FMVSS 209, on March 1, 1967 that standard become effective and the seatbelt was introduced.
Fast forward several decades and the auto industry evolved and safety is paramount and can influence the design of a vehicle. Two standards that impacted the fire service were the Side Impact Protection (FMVSS 214) and the Roof Crush Resistance (FMVSS 216). The side impact protection introduced stronger B-pillars and advanced steel while the roof crush resistance beefed up the roof rails. Add into the mix crude oil prices pushing automakers to improve fuel economy and body structures were lightened with additional advanced steels like boron. The advanced steels killed two birds with one stone, stronger and lighter. Stronger body structures made with advanced steels are safer and lighter which also improves fuel economy.
So why should firefighters care? To take a quote I heard Chief Bobby Halton say, we need to be “a student of the game”, plain and simple. I’m not suggesting that every firefighter needs to stay up late reading and researching vehicle design and engineering. The fire service is too broad to be an expert in every discipline. Yet you need to be knowledgeable in every discipline and have go to people that are the experts. Research and read a little about new vehicle body structures and develop an awareness level knowledge of where stronger material is commonly found. The b-pillar is a no brainer; it is stronger in new vehicles. What about where the a-pillar meets the rocker panel? In new vehicles that is a very strong part of the vehicle. Nothing that you will have trouble cutting, but you could easily not cut enough material away on the lower relief cut on a dash lift. Read Lt Isaac Fraizer’s Quick Tip, The Deep Cut. I always teach students that the cutter should never be put done until the occupant is free from the dash. New vehicles often require the firefighter operating the cutters to nibble away more material deeper into the wheel well.
I asked two questions at the beginning of this post. Why are vehicles changing and why should firefighters care? I explained why the vehicles are changing, government standards to improve safety. However, I feel I brushed over why firefighters should care by only talking about the vehicle. Regardless of what type of firefighter you are ask yourself this question. Do the firefighters in the cities and towns my family drives thru daily care about how vehicles are changing? Your answer would be yes. You want the professional, highly trained, knowledgeable firefighter showing up to the motor vehicle accident that god forbid could involve your family. I know I do. That’s why I read, train, and keep building my skills. I owe that to every firefighter that if their family is involved in an accident in my city that I will respond with the same level of proficiency I would expect from the firefighter helping my family. Career, Part-time, Paid-On-Call, or Volunteer; doesn’t matter. The fire service is not a job or a hobby. It’s a calling. Make sure you stay ready.