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Steps to Prevent Firefighter Deaths in Truck Rollovers

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
February 28, 2002

A new bulletin by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends steps to protect firefighters from fatal injuries resulting from tanker truck rollovers.

From 1977 to 1999, 73 firefighters died of injuries after their trucks went out of control and rolled over, NIOSH reports in the document, “NIOSH Hazard ID: Fire Fighter Deaths from Tanker Truck Rollovers.” From an analysis of the incidents, NIOSH found that a number of factors may contribute to the risk of rollovers. For example, tanker trucks size, weight, configuration, and braking systems make them more difficult to control than passenger vehicles.

Among other recommendations developed with assistance from outside specialists in fire fighting and emergency vehicle safety, NIOSH suggests that:

  • Fire departments should develop, implement, and enforce standard operating procedures for emergency vehicles, including requirements for providing and using seat belts.
  • Fire departments should inspect and maintain tankers according to state and federal motor vehicle regulations, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommended standards.
  • Fire departments should verify that vehicles are properly designed, ensure that their fully loaded weight does not exceed chassis and axle weight ratings, and ensure that water tanks are properly mounted and are properly baffled to control the movement of the water they contain.
  • Tanker truck drivers should wear their seat belts, take training to meet NFPA requirements, and follow the training with refresher courses at least twice a year.

Tanker trucks require much more stopping distance than automobiles, and their air brake systems take longer to activate than the hydraulic/mechanical brake systems on cars, NIOSH notes in the bulletin. The amount of water in the tank and whether the tank is baffled also affect the amount of control the driver has over the truck.

The NIOSH Hazard ID also includes two case studies of fatal rollover incidents, drawn from NIOSH’s Firefighter Fatality Investigation Program. Under this program, NIOSH investigates incidents in which firefighters died in the line of duty, identifies factors involved in the deaths, and issues findings and recommendations to prevent similar deaths and injuries in the future.

DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2002-111, is available by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). It also is available on the NIOSH Web page .