Tanker trucks, also known as mobile water supply apparatus, are an important part of most firefighting efforts. These tanker trucks transport water to fire scenes, allowing firefighters the water that helps them extinguish flames. Tankers arriving at a fire scene can help save homes as well as lives. They can also help prevent burn injuries by helping get flames under control.
Unfortunately, tanker trucks also have a high rate of accidents. Tanker trucks involved in firefighting efforts cause more fatalities than all other pieces of firefighting equipment combined. This is in spite of the fact that there are fewer mobile water supply apparatus tankers than most other types of firefighting equipment and in spite of the fact that these tankers respond to fewer calls.
According to experts, there are many reasons why mobile water supply apparatus tanker trucks have such a high rate of accidents. Many claim that these trucks can be easily overloaded as the prime concern when filling these trucks is to get enough water to the fire scene. As well, tanker trucks are encouraged to speed, even on dangerous road conditions, because they are responding to an emergency. As well, many mobile water supply apparatus tanker trucks are in fact converted from other trucks (often trucks designed to transport propane, for example).
While there are many contributing factors in these accidents, including tire blowouts or brake malfunction, in many cases driver error at least contributes to the accident. In some cases, drivers are too inexperienced driving the type of tanker being operated. Often, the emergency flashing lights and the signal siren of the tanker can be especially distracting to the inexperienced driver. In some cases, drivers do not have adequate training in hauling large loads of liquid. Excessive speed and driver distraction is also a cause in many accidents. When a collision does seem unavoidable, studies show that many drivers overcorrect their steering, which actually increases the risk of a rollover.
In many firefighter tanker truck fatalities, the U.S. Fire Administration reports that seat belt use was an issue. In about 75% of cases where firefighters are killed in tanker rollovers, the victims were not wearing seatbelts. Many firefighters do not wear seatbelts while in trucks on the way to or from an emergency, often because they are rushed to get to the scene of the emergency. However, lack of seatbelt use greatly increases the risk of fatalities, serious spinal cord injuries, broken bones, head injuries, and other serious injuries in the event of an accident. Since 1999, many firefighting trucks have been equipped with very visible seatbelts which are in bright shades. These seatbelts are designed to help remind firefighters of the importance of seat belt use. Unfortunately, many firefighters still choose not to wear seatbelts.