How to buy fire hose rollers

Preventing back injuries is the only reason you need to buy hose rollers; here are four things to consider before selecting one

When I saw the first-generation of fire hose management system, I immediately thought, "Now that's what the guy meant when he said, 'Work smarter, not harder.'" My second thought was, "I'm betting that a firefighter is behind this new tool."

By hose management system, I mean any tools used to drain, roll and repack fire hose on fire apparatus.

It turns out that I was correct on that second thought as the inventor was a firefighter who came up with his idea while recuperating from a back injury that kept him off the job for almost nine months. And that's probably the best reason for every department to consider purchasing an HMS: the system will pay for itself with the first back-strain injury it prevents.

Here are three facts.

  • For most fire departments, the leading cause of lost-time injuries and workers' compensation claims are back injuries.
  • The introduction of large-diameter hose has dramatically increased the bulk and weight of fire hose.
  • Most fire departments operate with fewer members resulting in more fatigued firefighters; injuries occur more often when firefighters are exhausted and use improper body mechanics.

NFPA says
I purchased my department's first HMS — when I was the chief of the Training and Safety Division — for use on the training grounds, particularly during recruit school training.

The goal was, first, to prevent back injuries, and second, to increase our efficiency during training drills by dramatically decreasing the amount of time it took to repack hose after each training evolution.

The applicable standard for reloading fire hose on apparatus is NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter 6.3.4. It reads: "Fire departments permitting hose loading operations while the vehicle is in motion shall develop written standard operating procedures addressing all safety aspects."

Suffice to say, most fire departments are not addressing these requirements on every call, every day. The best way for a department to safely reload fire hose, and do so in compliance with the NFPA standard, is to not allow reloading while the apparatus is moving.

And that's where an HMS becomes part of the discussion.

When looking to buy a hose management system for your department, here are four key areas to consider.

1. Hose size
What sizes of hose must the system accommodate? Why purchase a system that accommodates LDH if your department doesn't have LDH and has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future?

2. Deployment strategy
How will you ensure that the equipment is readily available whenever firefighters have to drain, roll and repack fire hose? Part of this is deciding if every piece of apparatus will have an HMS or if the equipment be carried on a support vehicle called to the scene. Firefighters are notorious for making do when the right tool isn't readily available, frequently with unintended and undesirable consequences.

How will you implement your deployment strategy to ensure the equipment arrives where it's needed when it's needed? Most fire apparatus is already overloaded with every compartment jam packed with equipment to meet the mission. It is important to consider what equipment will have to be moved or taken off of the apparatus.

Please don't place it topside on the apparatus where a firefighter has to climb up to gain access to the HMS and then hand that heavy piece of equipment down to another firefighter on the ground. First, your goal is to reduce the risk of injury, especially back injuries. Second, if it's on the apparatus, but they can't readily get to it, will they really use it?

If you're looking to use a support vehicle, how will you ensure that it can arrive with the equipment at the time and place it's needed? Give some thought as well to how you'll maintain such a delivery system over time once the newness wears off and the support vehicle is a resource requiring its own call-out and staffing.

3. Ease of use
Get demo models from as many vendors as possible and have a good sampling of your staff use each model with the different sizes of hose in your department's inventory.

Make the evaluation as realistic as possible by using a scenario where they have to drain, roll and repack both the amount and types of hose used on a typical structure fire. Every vendor's product may be equal when rolling one or two lengths of hose, but how about after draining, rolling and repacking a couple of hundred feet of LDH and 1¾-inch attack line, respectively?

After each person gets the opportunity to use each type of equipment, get their written feedback for the following statements using a strongly disagree to strongly agree scale. 

  • The equipment is applicable to the job we do.
  • The equipment was easy to use.
  • I would use this equipment all the time if provided to me.

4. Cost
I list this factor last because I find that people typically constrain their thought process when they consider the money needed first. Instead, use the previously described factors to help better frame your thoughts and assist in evaluating your options to develop three possible alternatives: good, better and best.

Now the money factor comes into play because good, better and best all come with their own price tag. Spend your equipment dollars in such a way that you can make the HMS available to your firefighters when they need it and where they need it the greatest percentage of the time.

Here's another money tip: look beyond your fire department's operating or capital budget. Get in contact with your workers' compensation insurance carrier and discuss with them the risk-reduction aspects of HMS.

Insurance companies like paying for engineered solutions to a potential problem rather than a medical solution to a realized problem. Have a similar conversation with the budget and risk-management professionals in your local and state governments to see what financial options may be available.

Like the man said, "Work smarter, not harder."

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