Tillered Aerials and Safety Collaboration

Hilton Head Island Truck 6 working in Palmetto Dunes.

In the years before becoming a chief officer I spent the very large majority of my career as a truck company officer. The last ten years of my assignment to Truck 6 was spent on the tractor-drawn aerial we currently have. The crews assigned to Six-Truck will have a “new” ride soon; our reserve tiller is off being re-tractored and the trailer refurbished. Once the new one returns, the ALF piece that served us valiantly for all these years will then rotate to reserve status.

Since I was the lifer truckie captain and one of only three in the department who had even sat behind the wheel of a TDA before (I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I got the job), I got to shop, spec, purchase, equip, and train the company in our new concept. We brought in an expert who was likewise, a lifer truckie, and learned to drive the TDA the old fashioned way (drive it around the parking lot for a while).

My observation was such that, as an educator, there was probably a more effective method of developing drivers for this specialized piece of machinery. When we were doing research on writing a course on driving tillers, I found a shocking lack of information (at that time) on them and ultimately, a few colleagues and I developed the coursework from which we certify our personnel to drive. This, to satisfy the naysayers, also involved INTENSIVE driving of the vehicle: beachfront parking lots during summer, night driving, driving in the rain, and lots and lots of situational stuff. Needless to say, when we were done, that first round of drivers was pretty proficient.

Lately we have been finding that there is a desire for some to want to reduce the requirements for TDA chauffeurs and tiller operators and I expressed my opinion that this was not the way to go. Our organization does all kinds of stuff in our community in conjunction with our customer service outlook, as well as respond on emergencies. Time is very valuable, but I also know of a long and distinguished history of TDA mishaps that each time point to a missed element of discipline and training. There are basic laws of physics that really come into play with a tractor-drawn aerial that don’t in your basic straight frame aerial, and I have been less than tolerant of relief drivers who don’t understand that.

So you can imagine my interest when I found out about this video collaboration between the Raleigh and Seattle Fire Departments as can be seen here:Raleigh and Seattle Collaborative Training Video I have been watching to see what lessons we might get out of the Raleigh TDA rollover and it seems as if we will have a very valuable tool for educating not only TDA drivers, but all firefighters as well.

But while this could evolve into an entire lesson on driving tillered apparatus, the discussion I want to actually have is that there is a wealth of information out there that you all have the opportunity to obtain. We find too often that people are unwilling to accept the observations and experiences of others and instead “reinvent the wheel” regularly, wasting time and money in the process. But these two departments saw needs and worked together to produce a valuable teaching tool.

There is no shame in finding out what mistakes (or positively, what efforts) have been previously made in our business and asking questions about he good, the bad, and the ugly. This is called research. We ask questions to determine an answer to a problem and rely on science and experience to make decisions. The problem is, it requires effort and it requires being candid about the issues. But no progress gets made without learning about what went right and what went wrong.

Check out the video and tell me what you think. I have already viewed it a number of times and take away something new each time. We are fortunate (and thankful) that no one was killed in this event. And it goes without saying, I thank both departments for their sincere effort in making the job safer. But the lessons learned are no good to anyone if we keep them locked up in a closet. Share the knowledge, collaborate, and learn from one another.

Note: I meant to add this link as well and failed to do it: The Fire Engineering article that spurred my interest. I like to give credit where credit is due.

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