Headache racks — rollover protection for an engine?

Above: photo from the report on the rollover of a U.S. Forest Service engine in Colorado September 12, 2017.

(Originally published November 30, 2017)

In a report released by the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center about the rollover of a U.S. Forest Service engine in Colorado September 12, 2017 one item listed under “What went well” was “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”. However, there was no explanation. As seen in the photo above, this is a structure behind the cab to serve as a mounting location for lights. It  has an expanded metal screen to prevent cargo from sliding forward through the rear window during a sudden stop, but they are not expected to provide serious protection during a rollover.

Backrack headache rack
Photo from Backrack.

We checked with Backrack, a company that specializes in these devices, about how useful they would be in a rollover accident. A spokesperson told us that “because of  our insurance” they are not allowed to give out that information.

Perry Shatley, Wildland Sales Manager for BFX Fire Apparatus, one of our advertisers, told us their headache racks are not designed for rollover protection:

We noticed a recent article(s) about engine accidents (rollovers) on your site. In reading some of the comments regarding the article – Hauser Road rollover – it became clear that there is a misunderstanding about the intended use of this headache rack. BFX Fire Apparatus does provide a very robust rack but roll protection or its ability to help with this was never its intended use. This rack is there to provide a platform for emergency lighting which includes the lightbar, scenes lighting, walking surface lighting or other lighting that might be desired. It is also used to protect the rear cab window from damage if an object were able to make its way near this window. We understand full well the desire to provide crew protection within the cab, but the headache rack has nothing to do with this nor was it the intent.

Not only are headache racks not designed to maintain their integrity during a rollover, if they are mounted to a body component, the body AND the rack could become deformed or separated from the rest of the vehicle.

Water tender rollover
Water tender rollover on the Jolly Mountain Fire in Washington September 11, 2017. Photo from PNW RLS report.