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Trail science and fire science go hand in hand complementing each other and finding that to the extent they are public services they must be measured by effectiveness and efficiency.


Proper bollard design for trails complements fire protection


The science of fire grows exponentially, and this certainly is important to trail designers whose skills are challenged to adapt to a similarly-growing variety of trail environments, each with its own fire mitigation dynamics. Added to the traditional wilderness trail designs are urban and suburban trails, rural trails, rails to trails, and more recently the wildland urban interface.

photo of bridge from the air

Apparatus Bumper Impacts Collapsible Bollards

Trail science and fire science go hand in hand complementing each other and finding that to the extent they are public services they must be measured by effectiveness and efficiency. (A third measure of public service deals with equity but does not concern us here.)

Effectiveness is concerned with the reason for providing the service and is measured by how well it does what it is supposed to do, both in terms of output and consequences of the output. The amazing growth in both numbers of trails and trail users is one example of the effectiveness of trail popularity.

Fire services do well what they do—an indicator of effectiveness, but the evidence says the growing demand for fire services is rapidly overwhelming the capacity to meet that demand. This is an efficiency issue.

Efficiency is concerned with how well resources are used in providing the service. In this article, we address the efficiency issue by discussing measurement of fire apparatus response time to fires and the amount of time required to traverse trailheads fronted by the familiar bollard barrier.

There are three parts to our discussion:

• The Nature of Performance-Based Design Measures

• Apparatus Response Times and Emerging Issues

• Filling in the Design Gap: Measuring Trailhead Bollard Take-Down Time

The Nature of Performance-Based Design Measures

The differences between prescriptive design and performance-based design are now well-known to fire protection engineers. Performance measurement relies on the evaluation of achieved outcomes compared to desired outcomes—usually expressed in descriptive and qualitative terms. Many of the early fire prevention codes were primarily prescriptive in nature and to some extent still are.

But why measure performance, if neither the act of measuring nor the results accomplish anything? It’s only when local managers use measurements to improve performance, and, as Robert Behn adds, to evaluate, control, budget, motivate, promote, celebrate, and learn that measurement gains utility. If prescriptive measures represent “what is desired,” then performance measures are the quantitative representation of activities and resources that help evaluate whether goals are met.

Apparatus Response Times and Emerging Issues

Our interest is in the amount of time— a performance-based measure— it takes for fire apparatus equipment and crews, following an alarm, to travel to the site of a fire and begin mitigation:

Response Time to Alarm + Travel Time to Site + Set-Up Time → Mitigation

Urban trails and NFPA 1710. The National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA Code 1710 specifies that in urban environments involving career firefighters the standard for “turnout” time, i.e., getting notification of alarm, suit up, and apparatus departing station, should take 80 seconds for fire trucks and 60 seconds for EMS. The Code also specifies that the first company on the scene should arrive within four minutes.

Rural trails and NFPA 1720. While not addressing trails directly, NFPA Code 1720 pertains to volunteer firefighter teams reaching suburban and rural areas where trails are located and where the performance measures for responder response times are applicable. As one example, volunteer responder response time where the population protected averages 500-1000 people per square mile is 10 minutes and the minimum staff is 10.

Emerging issue 1: International Fire Code 2012

Late in 2009, representatives of the International Code Council’s Fire Code Committee and the Congress for New Urbanism overwhelmingly approved performance-based guidance for comment that traffic calming devices and barriers, such as bollards, would not be allowed to prevent roadway access and traffic, except by approval of the fire code official. ICC’s Joint Fire Service Committee early in 2010 approved the revision to be included in the IFC-2012, thereby causing revision of IFC-2009 and its mandatory use of roadway barriers. Trailheads across America use bollards to restrict vehicle access in behalf of user safety. IFC-2012 will challenge that.

This revision will potentially impact the use of bollard barriers at trailheads in urban and suburban communities. Hence, authorities having jurisdiction will now be faced with two decisions: Whether in the first place to install bollards at trailheads and, if so, what bollard design is most applicable (something we address in the concluding section). By addressing the design issue, we provide AHJs a rational basis for their trail-specific decisions. (At this writing, it is not known whether the change in IFC-2012 will be followed by a similar change in NFPA 1-2012.)

Emerging issue 2: The Wildland Urban Interface

At the recommendation of a blue ribbon panel in 2008, the National Wildland Urban Interface Counsel was formed in mid-2010 to address fires and related challenges associated with the growing threat in urban neighborhoods that border wildland areas. The alliance of more than 120 organizations—to which American Trails was invited-- convened at a national conference in November 2010. The alliance was developed by the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils.

More than 70,000 communities, 46 million homes and 120 million people across the United States are at risk from wildland fires. There are over 1000 National Recreation Trails, many in urban and suburban areas that are coterminous to the wildland urban interface. This partnership has just begun, and we anticipate AT and its affiliates will play a significant role in this new national movement.

Filling in the Design Gap: Measuring Trailhead Bollard Take-Down Time

What’s missing: the issue of set-up time. Existing performance-based measures, as noted above, allow fire apparatus four minutes to arrive in urban areas and, relative to population concentration, 9-14 minutes in more rural areas. Codes specify that arrival is to be at the site of the building, and, by implication, at the trailhead itself. “Set up time” (as the codes suggest) should take no more than two more minutes. This includes traversing a bollard barrier at the trailhead or some other access roadway.

Our experience in the field, with both trailheads and urban and suburban apparatus access roads, has taught us that bollards and the ease with which they are dismantled vary considerably by design and environmental and climatic conditions. Having explored these variations, we hope to provide trail designers and local authorities having code jurisdiction heretofore unavailable design performance measures on bollard takedown times.

Market-available generic bollard designs: Without reference to brand name, five common (generic) bollard designs were tested in reference to the amount of time it took first responders to prepare the trail entrance or traditional fire lane so that the apparatus could enter. Take-down tasks, take-down time, and a photo of each design are presented here.

photo of bridge from the air post

Padlocked Removable Bollard (take-down: 60-75 seconds)


Padlocked Removable Bollard

• Take-down: 60-75 seconds
• Single fireman exits apparatus
• Goes to key box
• With master key opens box and retrieves padlock key
• Bends over, unlocks and removes three padlocks
• Removes bollards from their bases
• Sets bollards aside
• Fireman returns to apparatus








photo of bridge from the air post

Hydrant Wrench Removable Bollard (take-down: 50-60 seconds)


Hydrant Wrench Removable Bollard

• Takedown: 50-60 seconds
• Single fireman exits apparatus with hydrant wrench
• Fits, turns wrench and unlocks three bollards
• Removes bollards from their bases
• Sets bollards aside
• Fireman returns to apparatus








photo of bridge from the air post

Padlocked Collapsible Bollard (takedown: 30-45 seconds)



Padlocked Collapsible Bollard

• Takedown: 30-45 seconds
• Single fireman exits apparatus; Goes to key box; With master key opens box and retrieves padlock key
• Bends over, unlocks and collapses three bollards in place; Fireman returns to apparatus









photo of bridge from the air post

Hydrant Wrench Collapsible Bollard (takedown: 20 seconds)




Hydrant Wrench Collapsible Bollard

• Takedown: 20 seconds
• Single fireman exits apparatus with hydrant wrench; Fits, turns wrench, unlocks and collapses three bollards in place
• Fireman returns to apparatus









graphic of fire truck

Apparatus Bumper Impacts Collapsible Bollard

Takedown: 5 seconds

Apparatus Bumper Impacts Collapsible Bollard

• Takedown: 5 seconds
• Apparatus impacts two-three bollards simultaneously;

• Collapses bollards (sheers retention inserts, replaceable following event)
• Bollards remain in place


If the code-critical average set up time is to be two minutes, then access across-barrier represents a wide range of conservatively-calculated effort of 5-75 seconds. Bollard design therefore is a relevant variable in a system committed to fire mitigation.

However, as is true of any system, there are contingent time-related factors, which need to be considered by the trail designer, fire protection engineer, or AHJ.

• Keys can be misplaced during the rush to set up. This is not as likely when using the much larger hydrant wrench, which is standard equipment for first responders. Misplaced keys will be more common when cooperating fire crews arrive from several stations and particularly those from outside the jurisdiction of the local fire station (see last item in this series).

• Infrequently opened locks can rust or be contaminated with trail or other debris unless they meet the ASTI-standards of NFPA 730— Guide for Physical Security.

• Inclement weather conditions (snow, rain, sand, debris, mud, or flood) can make finding and unlocking locks a difficult task.

• In the event of a lock failure, for any of the foregoing reasons, the remaining option is the bolt-cutters— usually a two-person task! Under these circumstances, all bets for efficient access are off.

These contingencies lend themselves to choice of either the hydrant wrench collapsible design or the knock-over design instead of designs using keys and padlocks. (The knock-over collapsible design is readily repaired on site following the incident.)

In one interview with a seasoned fire fighter from the Northeast with whom we described these design differences, he exclaimed, “The winter snows made it almost impossible to find and unlock the bollards. How easy it would have been to just knock them over and drive straight through!”


Firefighting in the city and even in a small country town can seem almost benign in their relative straightforward response to local fires compared to situations where two or more fire departments located miles apart from each other cooperatively respond to rural trail fires or wildland urban interface fires.

As these rather loosely configured “fire-fighting systems” grow in size and diversity, the task of the trail designer, fire prevention engineer, and authority having code jurisdiction (AHJ) “complexifies.” After all, our fire codes do not specify what kind of bollard design— a performance-design-measure-issue— is required, only that a bollard is necessary! And judging by the hundreds of different local design decisions made by AHJs and published on the Internet and accessible from a Google search, the evidence seems clear: a flip of the coin has been sufficient! We have added a new performance design measure element to assist in simplifying the mix of considerations by the AHJ. Happy trekking!

Charles G. Oakes, PhD, is a security consultant for Blue Ember Technologies, LLC. A detailed discussion of bollard designs is found at

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