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Outriggers needed: Lessons learned from a flipped aerial

Aerials have been designed with various layers of safety – and outriggers are one of them

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Most fire departments have aerial fire trucks sitting in their stations. There are many types of these aerial devices – a straight ladder stick, platform, rear mount, mid-mount, and telescopic or articulating boom. No matter what type of aerial device you have, they all have one common feature that’s needed for them to operate – outriggers.

Every aerial device needs to have outriggers to stabilize the aerial device. Without them, the aerial device will not be able to operate in a safe manner.

An aerial device has been designed and built with different layers of safety all working in an interconnected way. If the one layer of safety is not in place or activated, then the next layer of operation will not operate or be allowed to operate. Outriggers are one of those layers of safety that must be implemented in order for the aerial device to operate.

Leading up to the outriggers being deployed, there are other safety features that must be initiated – the maxi-brake, aerial master switch and perhaps an aerial power takeoff (PTO).

In our corresponding video, we have an incident involving an aerial device that tipped over with the ladder deployed. This resulted in a crushed car, a damaged aerial truck, and minor injuries to both firefighters and the occupants of the crushed vehicle.

The flip occurred in Plumstead Township, Pennsylvania, where an aerial was displaying a large American flag next to Route 611 for passing cars on Memorial Day.

While there have not been any official details released as to what went wrong, the pictures from the video show us what might have happened.

The outriggers are shown to be retracted, with the aerial ladder still deployed. It was reported that the truck was being relocated/moved to a different position when the incident occurred.

The layers of safety features built into the aerial trucks are like little dominos being lined up: When everything in the process is followed and lined up correctly, the aerial truck works properly. When everything in the process is not followed and lined up correctly, the aerial truck will not work properly and safely.

This was the case in Pennsylvania. The dominos were lined up to fall toward a bad outcome.

There is never a time or need to circumvent the safety features of an aerial device, especially when there is no fireground emergency.

This incident reminds me of an incident at a bowling alley fire where an aerial truck was moved with firefighters in the platform – an action taken to save the firefighters’ lives from being burned. The outcome was a positive one, but it could have gone the other way.

An aerial device is a useful tool for the fireground, and when it is used within its limits, it performs extremely well, but when it is pushed beyond its limits, the truck will react based upon the forces placed upon it, which can be dangerous – and even deadly – for all involved.

Training time

After watching this video with your company, take the following steps to help prevent similar incidents:

  • Review your department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) for your aerial apparatus.
  • Practice the use of the aerial’s outriggers in different situations, like short-jacking and various angles and slopes.
  • Conduct a training session looking at the different safety components of the aerial truck, where they are located, how they work, and how to override them if needed or allowed.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.