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Apparatus Innovations Advance Firefighters' Health & Safety

A Short Recap of SFF Podcast Episode 89: Innovation in Fire through Simplicity with Jay Johnson

SFF Guest Jay Johnson

“At the end of the day,” stated Rev Group’s Vice President and General Manager Jay Johnson, “the focus [of technological advancements] remains on the firefighter and helping them stay healthy and safe when they're doing the job.” Johnson’s 20-year-long career has been spent mostly on the customer-dealer side of the fire apparatus business in union with his efforts towards improving technological elements of the vehicle; “whether it's got tires on it or wires off, I've done it in the fire service,” he proved. Given his current position aiding multiple brands in sending trucks off to the market - including but not limited to Spartan, Ferrera and Ladder Tower - Johnson is an expert on the evolution of fire apparatus innovations and has taken a major role himself.

The fire truck and apparatus itself has undergone ample change in recent years that has aimed to suitably enable firefighters to, “do the noble work they do: saving lives every day for the citizens and the communities they serve.” Many industry outsiders do not realize the vehicle is of utmost importance, yet firefighters know that is an essential weapon in their arsenal. Johnson’s experience helping customers allowed him to acknowledge the immense development that has been achieved resulting from actively listening to the needs of first responders, gathering accurate information and asking the correct questions. True, the answers may lead to more questions, more refinement and more testing, but, “that’s ultimately how some of the best innovations come about.”

Innovations towards Firefighter Health & Safety

Oftentimes, needed advancements are so simple and straightforward that innovators typically do not realize them and consequently create technology fire departments have no desire or capability to employ. As noted earlier, the two main targets when enhancing apparatus technology are firefighters’: 1) health; 2) safety. The front of the apparatus, otherwise known as the cab, “is a key delivery mechanism to get [the firefighters] safely” to the scene - therefore also where they spend a lot of their time. Getting in and out of the cab has been previously challenging due to the various tripping hazards, but flat floors and well-designed steps have greatly reduced the risk of falling, particularly in locations where winter brings snow and ice. The public often takes for granted many of the needed apparatus advancements without even knowing it, such as a clear line-of-sight out of the vehicle’s front windshield and mirrors. The truck’s dash has been enhanced, solving the issue of poor visibility, while the employment of camera systems have also enabled the driver to safely navigate and position the large truck, improving the safety not only of the passengers but also of nearby pedestrians.

Clean Cabs

The fire service's universal problem is deciding how to protect the first responders from COVID-19, especially inside the cab itself. Clean cabs - a nickname that arrived far before the pandemic - not only relates to shielding from COVID-19 but also from carcinogenic materials, exposures, EMFS situations, blood borne pathogens and much more which, according to Johnson, are not contemporary issues. Deploying air purification systems (that go beyond the EPA’s standards) conjointly with the HIPAA filtration system adds crucial yet basic functions that improve the cab’s hygienic environment. Johnson introduced his innovative air purification system in collaboration with other technology providers that essentially move air in the cab across a UV light while simultaneously fanning a very low dose of hydrogen peroxide. He additionally founded a convenient method for mass decontaminating equipment, gear and other materials by connecting a classic garden hose directly to the truck’s pump panel since it always has water and pressure availability. “Sometimes it's the simple things that get overlooked, but are very critical for every-day duties that the fire service does. So, that's a simple thing that we've done, but you will find it unique.”

Another simple but previously neglected element of the cab that must be cleaned is the seats. Seat providers, “have done really great work coming up with solutions that are somewhat scalable depending on the customer and what they want to do.” Seats are now offered in multiple fabric materials such as:

  • vinyl that’s easily cleaned

  • anti microbial fabric that boosts the overall cleanliness of the cab

  • removable seat covers that can be readily machine washed and dried

“It’s the simplistic designs of a step or a seatbelt that move towards safety,” commented SFF host Kevin. “But these small tweaks are also very important innovations that maybe not everyone thinks about...sometimes there is value in incremental changes and incremental benefits, especially within the fire service where there are different levels of tolerance and willingness to change.” The innovations Johnson is, “putting into cabs go a long way, particularly coming from the pandemic and moving forward.”


Regrettably, unpredictable fire truck-citizen accidents occur more often than not; “we're seeing many stories that we don't like to see where someone may or may not hear or see the siren or red lights then run a light, unfortunately hitting a fire truck in route” to a scene. Considering consumer vehicles already have complete occupant restraint systems (like airbags) in place, having a robust rollcage construction - or what is also called a cap structure - in the cab’s design is essential for the safety of the truck’s occupants during a crash. Apparatus’ ergonomics must be practical and as focused on the firefighters’ safety as much as possible; “if the technology isn't actually serving a purpose, bringing value or helping the first responder to do their job better, faster and / or safer, then it's pretty much a waste of time and money.” Ergonomic solutions have brought great benefits to the fire service, such as:

  • hydraulic ladder racks which provide the ability to bring a ladder down to a level that is easier for the firefighter to handle the relatively awkward and heavy equipment load

  • hose loader that allows firefighters to manage the awkwardness of loading and unloading the hose from or onto a truck

Even though Johnson has committed his life’s work to improving firefighters’ health and safety during their “life-saving missions,” the fire apparatus is far from achieving its full evolution. As he illustrated, some of the best innovations are so simple and well-designed that they do not even seem like new inventions but just a way to do a superior job. If technological advancements do not, “achieve the goal of getting the firefighters safely to the scene so that they can in turn perform the critical work that they do, nothing else really matters.”

Hear the Rest of the Conversation

To find out more about Johnson’ innovations for the first responder industry as well as his take on different life science skills and ideas around fire industry obstacles and how we as a society can use the COVID-19 crisis as a force multiplier, listen to Smart Firefighting podcast’s Episode 89: Innovation in Fire through Simplicity with Jay Johnson on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts from!


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