Spartan's sensor array. - Photo courtesy of Spartan Motors.

Spartan's sensor array.

Photo courtesy of Spartan Motors.

As if firefighting itself was not dangerous enough, too many responders are being hurt just traveling to the fire. In 2010, more than 4,300 firefighter injuries were reported either en route to or returning from emergencies.

“These fire trucks are driving at top speeds,” said Russell Chick of Spartan Motors. “Sometimes they go through red lights. Fire trucks get T-boned at the intersections because civilians are not paying attention to the lights and sirens.”

Every one of those injuries is a potential lost time event that fire departments -- either municipal or industrial -- can ill afford, said Chick, corporate director of marketing for emergency vehicle manufacturer Spartan Motors.

“Obviously, the most important thing is protecting the life of the firefighter,” Chick said. “But there are also concerns about workers comp and time down. There could be more than one firefighter injured in an accident. How do you prevent a manpower loss like that?”

Safety ranks as a top consideration in purchasing a fire truck, Chick said. Spartan decided it was time to address this with regard to cab construction.

“We have always sought to expand on traditional features such as electronic stability control, tire pressure monitoring and safety lighting,” Chick said. “We have gone over and above the basic standards for cab structure such as a reinforced engine compartment. It was time to turn our attention to additional occupant safety.”

The solution put forward by Spartan Chassis, a subsidiary of Spartan Motors, is to make the fire trucks smarter. Spartan’s Advanced Protection System (APS) utilizes a network of outboard sensors that react in a wide variety of collision scenarios to instantly activate improved airbags covering much of the cab interior.

Unfortunately, competitive fire truck airbag systems will only deploy in a rollover accident, not front or side-impact collisions.

“We wanted to establish a new industry standard for cab safety,” Chick said. “It’s what the industry needs to be doing to better protect cab occupants from multi-angle impacts.”

Side airbag protection - Photo courtesy of Spartan Motors.

Side airbag protection

Photo courtesy of Spartan Motors.

Sensors placed along the perimeter of the cab continuously monitor for any event that would put occupants in danger. These sensors report to a Relay Control Module that can activate the airbags in milliseconds.

Fire truck airbags are nothing new. Most competitors offer a steering wheel airbag, airbags to protect the knees of the officer riding shotgun and small side curtain airbags to protect the passengers.

Among the improvements that APS offers are airbags to protect the knees of the driver as well as the front seat passenger.

“When you get into a front end collision often the driver’s knees are driven into the dashboard,” Chick said. “Even with a seat belt it does a lot of damage to the lower body. Our airbags protecting the driver’s knees are an industry first.”

Protecting the driver’s knees is only two of the four new APS controlled airbag positions, increasing total cab coverage to eight airbags. Also included in the system are side curtain airbags up to 700 percent larger than any competitor to reduce the risk of occupant ejection in a rollover.

In addition, APS makes use of a intelligent seat belt system that better controls the strain of the belt on vehicle occupants in an accident, Chick said.

“The belts have pyrotechnic pretensioners in the retractors instead of just a buckle,” he said. “After the occupant is pulled back into the seat, load limiters release some of the webbing to control the occupant’s deceleration into the airbag.”

As a result, the incidence of seat belt related injuries is reduced, Chick said.

“There is a careful balance,” he said. “You don’t want to let out too much webbing so that you are moving forward too fast, but letting out just enough that you don’t get whiplash or put too much pressure on the chest or internal organs.”

APS is automatically specified on Spartan cabs/chassis, but customers are able to deselect APS with a credit of $4,213 applied to their order.

“Since the launch of APS, over 70 percent of our customers are requesting APS on their new cabs,” Chick said.