Tyre Safety for Emergency Services Vehicles
In 1937, the world’s first emergency telephone number was introduced in London. Before a centralised control system, callers had to ring emergency services direct, which led to avoidable tragedies across the UK. Following the introduction of 999, similar dedicated numbers became common worldwide, as the importance of emergency services being contactable was realised. Nowadays, the services are easy to contact, but challenges remain.
Emergency service vehicles must be maintained in good condition to safely and quickly carry personnel and life-saving equipment to the scene of the accident without delays.
Since 2014, all new passenger vehicles sold in the EU must have tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) fitted as standard. However, there are no specific laws or regulations for tyre pressure monitoring systems in emergency service vehicles, including fire engines and ambulances, despite the importance of safe operation and driving.
A lack of legislation means that it is the responsibility of each emergency service to ensure its vehicles’ tyres are properly maintained. One way of doing this is by using TPMS to constantly monitor tyre pressure to recognise tyre problems early. The system's in-cab monitor can alert the driver to any potential problems, such as underinflation or overheating, before an incident occurs.
Direct TPMS systems use sensors on each tyre to measure tyre pressure, which allows readings to be taken while the vehicle is stationary. Indirect TPMS, which have no sensors, must approximate tyre pressure based on wheel speed. This means direct TPMS can reduce manual inspection times, ensuring vehicles are ready for immediate dispatch.
Larger vehicles that carry heavy apparatus, including fire engines, often have a tyre arrangement that includes four wheels on an axle. Unlike a standard car, it is very difficult for the driver to feel a flat tyre when operating a vehicle with this arrangement. Without TPMS, the driver would not know there was a problem until a likely preventable incident, such as a blowout, occurred.
Emergency service vehicles are driven under different conditions, putting extra strain on the tyres. Since their call outs are time-critical, vehicles are driven faster to reach the emergency as quickly as possible. Emergency service operators cannot afford for their vehicles to break down when attending an emergency, therefore they need to be equipped with as much technology as possible to prevent breakdowns. Emergency service vehicles can also suffer tyre problems at the scene of an accident, as there is often debris present that can damage or puncture tyres. For ambulances in particular, drivers often need to transport patients from the scene to a hospital, meaning that they need to be aware of any tyre damage as soon as possible.
Emergency service vehicles often travel much faster than other road users and in close proximity of other vehicles and pedestrians. If one of these vehicles suffered a blowout, the effects could be catastrophic. Vehicles are a precious and limited resource — every time one is out of service, another must respond, which means that less emergencies can be attended to.