NHTSA Opens Fire Truck Ladder Investigation After Injuries, Recall

Government highway safety officials have opened an investigation into reports of injuries associated with previously recalled fire trucks, where the aerial bucket equipment unintentionally retracted after repairs were reportedly made.

The Sutphen Corp. emergency vehicle investigation (PDF) was opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earlier this month, after the agency received at least two reports of the platform cables that secure the aerial ladder buckets failing, causing six firefighters to fall from significant heights and suffer injuries.

The fire trucks are being evaluated due to the risk taht bearings in the sheaves used to extend and retract the ladder bucket systems may seize and prevent the sheaves from rotating. When this happens, the cables sliding over the non-moving sheaves could wear out over time and reduce the load carrying capacity making the systems vulnerable.

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Wear and tear on the system may also allow the extended ladder buckets to retract unexpectedly from dangerous heights. The systems may also fail to extend or retract rendering them inoperable.

The recall includes 156 Sutphen Vehicles with Aerial Fire Apparatus manufactured by Stuphen Corp. of Ohio between 2000 and 2012 .

The emergency vehicles were previously recalled in November 2013, after the NHTSA became aware of the failing platform cables and its potential dangers to occupants. The recall was prompted after receiving reports of fire fighters in training exercises and during normal work routines falling from heights as great as 40 feet. The NHTSA and Sutphen Corp. evaluated a safety risk existed in the vehicles equipment and initiated a recall.

Since the recall and repair, there have been two separate incidents indicating the ladder buckets retracted unexpectedly sending occupants of the ladder buckets falling. The first incident since the vehicles were fixed occurred in Pennsylvania on June 25, when three people were injured when a platform cable failed. The second incident occurred in Georgia on July 22, when three people were seriously injured after the platform cable failed. All six occupants were treated at nearby hospitals.

The NHTSA investigation will seek to figure out why the platform cables are still failing as well as looking closer at what was done to fix the original recall. Company president Drew Stuphen of Stuphen Corp has advised fire departments not to use the recalled ladders until further notice. According to NHTSA documents, Stuphen Corp. sent a letter to the agency stating all 5-Section Aerial Devices have been removed and are undertaking a thorough review of the equipment and the 2013 remedy.


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