20 Tips for Safe Apparatus Backing

Issue 5 and Volume 8.

Despite advances in technology and apparatus safety features, backing a fire apparatus is still a dangerous task. Too often, we read about backing accidents that occur on the fireground or in the station bay, leading to expensive property damage or, worse, firefighter injuries and deaths. Such accidents are preventable, but to succeed in preventing them, we need to consistently review backing operations with our crews. That makes it a perfect topic for this month’s Quick Drill.
    Following are 20 tips on apparatus backing.

  1. Position to avoid backing. Initial apparatus positioning at incidents should always be based first on the safety of the crew and the function of the apparatus. The other consideration should be to “position to avoid backing.” If possible, avoid positioning the apparatus in locations that will require you to back up at the close of the incident, including alleys, dead-end streets and small parking lots. It’s better for the crew to walk a few extra steps than be involved in a backing accident.
  2. Sow down. As you enter the block on which the incident is located, slow down to avoid passing the incident address and having to back up. Better knowledge of your first-due area will also help to avoid overshooting streets. Get it right the first time.
  3. Plan. Before backing the apparatus, the entire crew should take the time to discuss how the backing operation should proceed. Discuss possible problem areas and which direction the unit will need to be directed before moving the apparatus. Walk the route you intend to use if needed.
  4. Never go backward when you can go forward. Going around the block and taking an extra minute is better and safer than backing up 30 feet.
  5. Focus on the mission. The incident scene is a busy place. Focus on the safety of the crew and apparatus when backing, and don’t be distracted by electronic equipment like the radio, cell phones or chatter in the cab.
  6. Light the area. Most apparatus have some means of lighting the rear of the apparatus during nighttime operations. The better lit, the safer you are.
  7. Deploy backers. Use backers to assist the apparatus operator at all times unless their use would cause undue risk by putting them out in high-speed traffic. When backing into the station, always use backers. Note: If at any time you can’t see your backers, stop the apparatus. You should always have visual contact with them. If possible, set portable radios and the apparatus radio to a direct channel that allows you to verbally communicate with backers as well. This allows backers to provide information to the driver and give the “Stop” command if needed.
  8. Ensure backers are visible. When deploying backers, make sure that they dress in appropriate safety equipment, including reflective vests, and carry flashlights during nighttime operations. Flashlights should be used to illuminate the backers; avoid directing the flashlight beams into truck mirrors.
  9. Don’t allow backers to ride the tailboard. Ever. A simple slip off the tailboard could lead to death.
  10. Only back alone as a last resort. Get help anytime you must back up a rig. A number of backing-related accidents occur at the station after apparatus check-out, clean-up or fueling. If you have to back alone, complete a 360 around the truck before moving.
  11. Slow down. Speed and over-confidence in your abilities can lead to a backing-related accident. Slow down anytime you’re backing the truck.
  12. Roll down the windows. Never back with the truck windows up. Your backers may need to verbally communicate with you while backing. Make it easy for them to do so by rolling down the windows.
  13. Use warning lights and mirrors. Any time you back the apparatus, use the warning lights to improve visibility to others. Make sure to properly position mirrors for your needs at the beginning of each shift, and refer to them repeatedly during backing.
  14. Use the horn. A short sounding of the truck’s normal horn will indicate to backers and other personnel that you’re starting the backing process.
  15. Back straight. Before backing into the station, position the apparatus as straight as possible on the ramp. Don’t attempt to cut the truck through the doors into position.
  16. Don’t assume. Just because your apparatus fits into your station doesn’t mean it will fit into all of them. Older stations may have lower doors and will not accept taller apparatus.
  17. Look up. A number of backing accidents could have been avoided if the backers had only looked up. Backers should always be aware of overhead obstructions, such as tree limbs and station exhaust systems, which may hit the top of the truck.
  18. Remember the top side of the apparatus. Never back the apparatus into the station after your apparatus check-out without ensuring the light tower and/or aerial is properly bedded. Never trust the auto-parking device; always verify.
  19. Leave space. When positioning, leave ample space in front of the apparatus so that when you’re pulling out for the next call, you don’t have to back up or cut too close to other apparatus or an ambulance in front of you.
  20. When backing into the station, go even slower! Although it’s always important to slow down while backing, it’s even more critical to do so when backing into the station. Slow down and make sure that the door is all the way up, the apparatus is straight and no one has left something in the bay behind you, such as turnout gear, shoes or cleaning supplies.

Remember: Backing an apparatus isn’t just the responsibility of the apparatus operator. Everyone has a responsibility to pay attention, focus on the task at hand and ensure that safe backing practices are followed. Review these tips with your crew monthly to help ensure that the next backing accident doesn’t involve your apparatus.