The one person that makes or breaks the success of a rescue and/or fire attack is the person in the front seat driving you to the incident. The faster they get you there the faster you can put your training into action and make a difference to the community you are protecting. So, let’s see what we can do to make the driver’s role safer without compromising response times.
Many old-timers talk about the days when you needed skill and brute force to drive a fire truck. Well I can tell you from first-hand experience that they were not the good old days. I first turned out in 1973 driving a wheeled escape (combination ladder to some) from the centre bay at Melbourne Fire HQ, which is now a museum. The actual appliance, photographed below, was a 1968 International truck, only five years old. The only thing I had to assist me was dim red lights front and back that worked well at night but not during the day, an audible alert, which was a tape recording of the traditional bell used in the ’60s, and an officer in the front seat giving directions from a street directory on his lap. The seat, steering wheel and manual gear stick were all fixed, one size fitted all.
Current fire fleets, and more excitably some of the protype appliances, have systems inbuilt that we would not have been able to dream of back then, although in this short article I won’t have room to touch on all the safety features that have been developed.
Let’s list some of the improvements since I drove a fire truck: fully adjustable driver and co-driver seat with air suspension and lumbar support, increased visibility, adjustable steering, power steering, automatic transmission, foldable steps to climb into the cabin along with strategically placed grab handles for the crew, certified seating and a crash-tested cabin offering fully digital and dynamic instrument displays, flexible operational logic making it easier for you to keep your hands on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road when responding, Global Positioning System (GPS), Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), rear reversing camera and the list goes on and on and on.
In the short space I have, let me talk about several systems that in my view are heading towards the ultimate: being part driverless fire trucks. Let’s not have the argument about driverless trucks but rejoice in the fact that these systems are available now to ensure the safety of crews responding to fires.
- Dynamic steering systems,
- Lane keeping systems,
- Headway support systems,
- Driver alert, and
- Electronic stability control
Although many fire trucks have some if not all of these features, I will use their application as they have been applied to the new generation Volvo FM crew cab.
How does it work?
Dynamic Steering combines conventional hydraulic power steering with an electric motor that’s fitted to the steering gear. By processing input from multiple sensors, the system works out where the truck is going and the driver’s intention. The motor is controlled 2,000 times every second to correct unintentional steering movements and provide extra steering torque when needed.
Stable and effortless
At high-speed Dynamic Steering keeps you stable and on course. And during slow and careful manoeuvring, it provides the steering force for you, no matter the load. It even takes the strain out of reversing a fully loaded truck and returns the wheel to neutral automatically. You can reverse more than 100m without drifting off course.
The course corrections you had to make after braking on an uneven surface are gone. Kicks from potholes, road ruts and markings are almost undetectable. Volvo Dynamic Steering even balances the impact of strong side winds. The truck will only change direction when you want it to.
Lane Keeping Support
The Lane Keeping Support system (LKS) is a drive support system with the task of alerting the driver during unintentional deviations from the driving lane, which can result in accidents. The system uses a camera positioned in the upper centre area of the windscreen to alert the driver with an acoustic signal from the speakers.
The system warns at the latest when the outside of the vehicle’s front tyre (closest to the lane markings) crosses a line 0.3m beyond the outside edge of the visible lane marking. The system operates in speeds from 60kph and can be activated/deactivated with a switch on the dashboard.
Headway Support System
This is forward collision warning with emergency braking and alerts the driver of the risk of a collision with the vehicle ahead. The warning consists of red LED lights reflected on the windscreen and an acoustic signal from the speakers. If risk of collision is imminent, the vehicle brakes will be applied automatically. The function is activated each time the vehicle is started and is available at speeds above 15kph. Again, it can be switched off and on with a button on the dashboard. The system uses both the radar and a camera to collect information.
Adaptive Cruise Control
Adaptive cruise control (ACC) with forward collision warning is a driver support system that uses radar to maintain a constant time gap to the vehicle ahead. The ACC can be engaged from 30kph. The forward collision warning is activated automatically each time the truck is started and independent of whether the ACC is on or not. It can be switched off and on with a button on the dashboard.
Driver Alert Support
Driver Alert Support (DAS) is a safety system aimed at preventing accidents caused by tired drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. The system monitors driving behaviour and the position of the truck in relation to lane and road edges, detecting the characteristics of drowsy or inattentive drivers and encouraging them to take a break. If the DAS is selected as a favourite in the Driver Information Display (DID), the system will give continuous information on attention level via the DID. The attention level is indicated by bars, where five bars indicate full attention, and one bar indicates critically low attention. In the event of a warning at level 2, the DAS switches off cruise control or adaptive cruise control if engaged. If erratic driving behaviour is detected, the system will warn the driver with both an acoustic warning and a warning in the DID. The first warning is an alert, the second warning is a suggestion to take a break. When the acoustic warning is activated, the radio is automatically muted. DAS uses input from the same components as the Lane keeping Support system, which therefore is required. If the system cannot find any reference (lane or road edges), or if the speed is below 6kph, the DAS will be deactivated, and a warning is displayed in the DID.
Electronic Stability Control (ESC)
Electronic Stability Control is an important safety feature available for a wide range of truck specifications. For emergency services applications, Volvo Trucks understand the specific requirements of the vehicle application and have optimised the ESC settings to deliver safe and capable emergency response. The program reduces the risk of skidding and rolling over. ESC-BASX is an option for the electronically controlled brake system packages. The control unit continuously receives information from a variety of sensors and makes a new evaluation of the driving situation several times per second. If the system detects that the truck is starting to lurch or behave abnormally in some other way, the ESC reduces engine torque or activates the brakes individually in order to reduce speed and straighten up the vehicle.
Whilst there is no way to eliminate accidents from occurring altogether, the Volvo Group is working proactively to develop intelligent solutions that not only mitigate the consequences of accidents but strive to avoid them altogether. Surrounded by a completely new cab made from galvanised sheet metal that is crash-tested according to ECE R29-03 and has an injury-preventive design using energy-absorbing materials, crew members jumping into a fire appliance today can sit comfortably in the knowledge that they have a carefully coordinated array of the most intelligent and up-to-date active and passive safety systems available. The person driving, who holds your life in his/her hands can rest assured knowing these innovations are keeping them and their team safe. Drivers today are assisted by features that were not thought of in my early days.
For more information, go to www.volvotrucks.com.au