A fire broke out across the street a couple of weeks ago and the building was evacuated. See the doorway directly under the traffic light on the right? I shot this photo right after the FDNY showed up and breached that door. As the smoke began billowing out of the doorway, I watched eight of them strap their gear on, pick up their stuff and calmly trudge into the smoke single-file.
They were as calm as they are because they do this every day, even though they’ve no idea what kind of danger they’re going to find inside. With countless ways for them to be injured on the job, whether by smoke, fire, explosion, falling debris, falling through the floor, etc., they deserve gear they can rely upon to protect them. So I was horrified to read that a handful of FDNY firefighters have sustained terrible hand injuries inside their new fire trucks, with a really, really stupid handle placement to blame. Look at this thing:
Are you kidding me? You can imagine how heavy the door is on a fire truck and how much momentum it closes with. To place a vertical handle so absurdly close to the hinge, and a horizontal handle that extends all the way to the hinge, seems insane; looking at it, you can imagine exactly where the thumb would be floating in the air when pulling the door shut (from either handle) in a hurry from the inside—and firefighters are often in a hurry—and where that thumb would go as the door closes.
Since getting the new trucks, in a six-month period five firefighters have all suffered the same thumb injury, by grabbing either the horizontal or the vertical handle. It’s a horrifically bad design, and there are some gruesome photos of the specific injuries sustained here.
The trucks in question were reportedly designed by Kovatch Mobile Equipment, a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of specialty vehicles. With nearly 60 years in the business, you’d think a company like KME would employ designers more careful with the placement of the handles, but even the company’s homepage shows a decided unconcern with ergonomics:
Why would you turn the category headings sideways and make them more difficult to read?
In any case, the five FDNY members who sustained injuries are preparing to file a lawsuit against the city, and given that “The accidents and injuries are remarkably similar,” according to their collective lawyer, they probably stand a good chance of winning. In the meantime, the FDNY has taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen to more firefighters; according to the New York Post, “An FDNY spokeswoman said it’s already changed the handles and latches to its fleet of 91 KME pumper trucks.”
I get that accidents happen, and there’s a long discussion about it over at the entry on dresser-drawer accidents. But I think men and women who risk their lives for their jobs deserve the very best design, and it would be nice if there was an intelligent, overseeing design body to ensure that boneheaded handle placements like these never go into production.