Keeping the wheels from falling off

Keeping the wheels from falling off

A message primarily to: All EMS members

Keeping the wheels from falling off

A simple step in your check-off can prevent a major malfunction

Yesterday, a tandem set of wheels fell off of one of our ambulances as it was transporting a patient.  The ambulance tilted to one corner and scraped its way to a stop, gouging a slot into the pavement.  This is Bad, with a capital B.  This is like a wing falling off of an airplane in flight.  Fortunately, our ambulances operate at a very low altitude.  Still, we lucked out in a number of ways:  It didn’t cause a disastrous loss of control, the wheels did not cause any damage or injury when they separated from the vehicle, and this particular patient was not critical.

A search for the root cause of this incident is already in progress, but did you know that this ambulance, and many like it, have super-simple 40¢ devices that can warn you ahead of time that a wheel might fall off?  Meet the Torque-Tight indicator:

how-to-install-lug-nut-indicators-step3.png

You’ve seen these on dump trucks and school buses, and they’re on many of our ambulances.

What are these things?

The mechanic puts these bright little indicators (called Torque-Tights) on the lug nuts immediately after re-installing the wheel.  He positions them so that if the lug nut stays tight, the indicator will “point” to the next lug nut.  If all the Torque-Tights are pointing in a perfect circle (as shown in the above picture), everything should be ok.  BUT:

IF A TORQUE-TIGHT DOES NOT SEEM TO BE POINTING TO THE NEXT LUG NUT—-> THE LUG NUT IS PROBABLY LOOSE.
IF A TORQUE-TIGHT IS MISSING—-> THE LUG NUT MAY HAVE ALREADY SHEARED OFF.
IF A TORQUE-TIGHT LOOKS BLISTERED OR MELTED—-> SOMETHING IN THE WHEEL HAS BADLY OVERHEATED.

It only takes one loose or missing lug nut to put excessive forces on the remaining lug nuts, and this vicious cycle can eventually lead to the entire wheel falling off.  Overheating of a wheel could mean a brake or bearing failure.

In other words, you may have a serious problem on your hands.  The ambulance needs to be taken out of service and brought to the city garage, either slowly and with great care, or by being towed.

What’s your responsibility?

It’s critical to include a walk-around in your unit check-off.  Pay attention to all the Torgue-Tights.  Make sure they are all present and pointing in the right direction.  Also, if at any time while operating the vehicle you detect:

  • Unusual noises
  • Unusual vibrations (including from the steering wheel)

…then park the unit safely, get out, and double-check the Torque-Tights.

What if your ambulance doesn’t have any Torque-Tights?

Talk to your squad leadership.  The Department would very much like to have Torque-Tights on all ambulances.  They may not be beautiful, but they can help prevent a catastrophe.  The city garage will install them at no cost to the squad, upon request.


My photo
Division Chief Kevin Lipscomb, NRP
Regulation & Support Services
Va Beach EMS Department

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