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How many seats should a fire truck have?

Picking the correct seating involves factoring safety, staffing and storage; here’s how to do the math


Keeping personnel safe while aboard fire apparatus is a fairly simple concept. There is no need to do anything other than stay seated and belted while the vehicle is in motion.

As simple as that sounds, the laws of physics can complicate matters. It comes down to how user friendly are the riding positions on your department’s apparatus?

The rules and reality don’t always match up.

The 2016 edition of NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, states: “Each crew riding position shall be provided with a seat and an approved seat belt designed to accommodate a person with and without heavy clothing.”

The standard specifies a minimum seat width of 18 inches at the hip, a depth 15 inches from the front edge of the cushion to the seatback and 22 inches of width at shoulder height. There are also minimum above-seat headroom dimensions, but no specific legroom requirements.

Seat footprint

Much of the vehicle safety technology found on today’s fire apparatus has come from the automobile and truck world. That is all fine if all that is required from a seating position is comfort and safety for an adult wearing normal attire.

However, as we know safely transporting firefighters and officers presents several unique challenges.

  • Bulky personal protective clothing increases the firefighter’s seating footprint.
  • Equipment in bunker pockets and attached to its exterior adds bulk and increases the difficulty of manipulating seat belts.
  • SCBA holding bracket behind the seat adds additional belts and fasteners that the firefighter must manipulate.

This is often the excuse for too many firefighters who are still not wearing their seatbelts, citing that they are restrictive and uncomfortable over their personal protective gear.

When portable radios, hand lights, escape ropes, harnesses, extra gloves and whatever tools the firefighter has placed in the pockets are added to bulky turnout gear, an 18-inch-wide seat with 22 inches of shoulder room could be inadequate.

Bunkered down

NFPA 1901 addressed this seating space issue in Appendix A.

“The ability of a firefighter to enter the driving or crew riding area, get seated, and properly buckle the seat belt is critical. NIOSH studies of firefighter size have shown that it is not possible to seat four of the largest firefighters (95th percentile males) wearing their protective clothing side-by-side across the crew riding area without rubbing shoulders…. The NIOSH data suggests that the optimum seating space to accommodate 95th percentile firefighters would be 31.3 inches (795 mm) at the shoulder and 26.7 inches (678 mm) at the hip.”

The integrated SCBA-seat has complicated not only the seat belt design, but also the firefighter’s ability to be secure before the vehicle moves. The SCBA’s shoulder straps and a waist strap and the assortment of hoses and attachments can have an adverse effect on the restraint belt donning process.

Fire departments should consider removing all SCBAs from apparatus cabs — putting them back in compartments — and specifying a seat and seat belt system to fit the firefighter. What at first glance appears to be a step backward could in fact be a step in the right direction for firefighter safety.

Such an approach eliminates all concerns with SCBA straps interfering with firefighters’ ability to don their restraint belts. I can hear the masses: “But that will take extra time to put on my air pack after we’ve arrived.”

Blasphemy defended

Every time I’ve taught a Firefighter I class, we place great emphasis on the future firefighter’s ability to don turnout gear and SCBA. The West Virginia University Fire Service Extension’s Candidate Accreditation Handbook, Firefighter I, requires that the firefighter candidate properly don their personal protective clothing within 60 seconds.

Then the candidate must successfully don their SCBA in under a minute. I’m reasonably sure that the other 49 states have similar testing criteria to meet NFPA 1001.

If a firefighter has donned their PPC prior to mounting the apparatus, they should be able to don the SCBA within 60 seconds of removing it from a compartment.

So, the first benefit is that firefighters can be properly seated and belted without having to contend with the SCBA. The second is that the short delay gives the company officer time to size-up the situation and determine the most appropriate action.

This time for planning can make a huge difference in the success and the safety of an operation.

Third, firefighters would no longer be dismounting the apparatus with an SCBA on their backs. Many knee and back injuries are caused by firefighters stumbling while dismounting, often because they are off balance and in a hurry to get into action.

There’s only so much available space on modern fire apparatus and that space must be allocated to personnel as well as equipment. Answering a couple of key questions can help address the needs of both.

1. What tactical operations will you expect from the apparatus?
Take a hard look at the scope and magnitude of your department’s mission and assess how your current apparatus is able to support that mission. The acquisition of a new piece of apparatus is a good time to realign your apparatus specifications to address any significant changes.

2. How many people and how much equipment must it carry?
Spacious crew cabs offer many operational and safety features, but how often will you be able to fill all the riding positions? Perhaps a trade-off of fewer riding positions for more compartment space is more beneficial.

The Fire Apparatus Manufacturers Association website has a variety of apparatus-related resources for download by non-members under the “Resources” tab and the “Fire Service Resources” menu. Two in particular that are useful in this discussion of space allocation process are:

The fire apparatus equipment weight and cube calculator. Use this spreadsheet to track the equipment that you plan to store on your fire apparatus. Estimated weights and volumes are provided for typical pieces of equipment so that you can calculate the total weight of your equipment and determine the total compartment volume needed to store it all.

The firefighter size and weight study. This study provides measurements of fire fighters in bunker gear. Primarily used by apparatus designers, this information may also be useful to fire departments planning for facilities that must be designed around the smallest and the largest fire fighter shapes, sizes and weights.

Equipped with that information, you’ll be more informed and educated as to what you have to do to balance your personnel needs of available seats and equipment storage needs.

This article, originally published Dec. 9, 2015, has been updated

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.