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NFPA Impact: Apparatus standard aimed at saving lives

The 2009 edition of NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus has been released by NFPA. It is intended to be applied to all new fire apparatus ordered after Jan. 1.

November 14, 2008 
By Sean Tracey

The 2009 edition of NFPA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus has been released by NFPA. It is intended to be applied to all new fire apparatus ordered after Jan. 1. The new standard, as well past editions and the proposed changes, can be viewed online for free at

In Canada, departments have the option of ordering apparatus to the NFPA or ULC requirements. The changes to NFPA 1901 will result in fire apparatus with some major differences from the ULC standard, so fire departments should be aware of what exactly they are ordering.

NFPA’s 2007 firefighter fatality and injury reports present some alarming figures on the number of career and volunteer personnel killed responding to or returning from calls, as well as roadside incidents. These figures were enough to galvanize the formation of a task group to specifically look at the safety requirements in the new standard. The majority of the NFPA 1901 changes have been incorporated to enhance responder safety.

One of the potentially controversial changes is the introduction of the vehicle data recorder and the requirement to capture data over a 48-hour period. An increasing number of private and commercial vehicles have these systems installed and their costs have come down. The data would provide information on items such as the rate of acceleration or deceleration, engine speed, seat occupied and seatbelt status for a particular date and time in the 48-hour loop. In addition to being a means for the fire department to educate drivers on performance, the data is also seen to be of value to the fire service in the event of an incident. 


In the firefighter fatality report it was determined that in two-thirds of the volunteer fatalities in fire apparatus over the past decade, failure to wear a seatbelt was a factor. The standard introduced changes to the design requirements for seatbelts and also requires a seatbelt warning device that is audible throughout the seating area and visual to the driver or officer positions.

The vehicle must undergo more extensive testing for stability or have a stability system installed. New maximum speeds for vehicles have also been introduced, depending on the maximum vehicle weight and whether the vehicle is a water/foam apparatus.

The task group has serious concerns about the number of incidents involving responders in roadside incidents. It wisely felt it was necessary to standardize vehicle reflective marking. New requirements for at least 50 per cent reflective marking on the rear of the apparatus and standardization of the chevron pattern have been added. Working with the Emergency Responder Institute, it also standardized equipment lists for roadside incidents. New equipment lists include:

  • One traffic vest for each seating position;
  • Five fluorescent orange traffic cones;
  • Five illuminated warning devices;
  • One automatic external defibrillator (AED).

Other improvements include the introduction of a new chapter on trailers and clarification on apparatus certification and testing. Under the new standard the manufacturer must deliver either a certificate indicating that the apparatus meets the standard or a statement of exception that describes specifically what is not fully compliant and identifies who is responsible for compliance. Foam systems are to be tested and certified for their performance using the requirements spelled out in the new standard. And there are new, enhanced testing and performance requirements for aerial devices. Subjects covered in the trailer chapter include the carrying capacity and specific components such as braking systems, suspension, the hitch, wheel chocks, electrical systems and reflective markings.

All these changes are significant but the intent is to further enhance responder safety while travelling in apparatus or responding to road-side incidents. The additions may add to the costs of an apparatus but, again, these changes were initiated by the fire service in response to growing concerns about the numbers of preventable firefighter fatalities and injuries. The choice will be open to you in selecting your apparatus in the future with the NFPA standard, incorporating changes driven by the fire service to further protect its members.

NFPA members can view a 15-minute podcast on the Fire Service Today web page at: (click on podcasts on the right-hand side of the screen and scroll down to June 24, 2008). The podcast features the NFPA’s Carl Peterson interviewing the task group chair about the changes to the standard. It provides some excellent insight into the committee’s rationale for the changes.

Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and formerly the Canadian Armed Forces fire marshal. Contact him at

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