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Training Operators In Emergency Mode

I was thinking about the apparatus and vehicles that fire departments use. I was also comparing the training related to the operation of those vehicles. Having been in law enforcement, both as a trooper and as a sergeant, I have some concerns.

My concern focuses on the training that the Emergency Vehicle Operator's Course (EVOC) I, II and III provide and what they lack. This training does not provide realistic “emergency response driving” training. This is considerably different from training in “pursuit driving.”

There is a tremendous difference between emergency response and EVOC training. Specifically, my concern is actual hands-on experience while operating a vehicle within the parameters of the statutes. In Virginia, emergency driving is “with due regard.” The statute creates allowances during an emergency response, primarily while operating a vehicle during high speed. EVOC training typically consists of classroom instruction, a cone course and normal roadway driving of apparatus. EVOC training lacks emergency-mode driving, and I think this becomes or can become an issue.

Furthermore, there are vehicles in use that pose different risks than other vehicles and personnel are not trained in their proper operation. The dynamics of these vehicles are different from what personnel were trained with in EVOC. I am speaking specifically of sport utility vehicles (SUVs). These vehicles are top heavy and take a longer distance to stop than a sedan. When operated at high speed, they have a greater tendency to overturn compared to a sedan.

Highway departments design roadways and set speed limits based on those designs. Any speed in excess of the posted speed limit can be considered “high speed.” The Code of Virginia allows an emergency vehicle to be operated in excess of the speed limit or at high speed as long as it is operated with “due regard.” Sedans and SUVs have a greater capability of exceeding the speed limits and usually are operated with only one occupant, the driver. The “human factor” becomes a major issue and is harder to control. Because of this, I believe there is a greater opportunity for mistakes in the operation of the vehicle, unlike a fire apparatus, where there is a driver and an officer and, hopefully, the driving will be kept within the driver’s ability.

I am not implying that fire apparatus operate at high speeds, only that the drivers of such receive minimal training, but again no emergency response training. Personnel need to be trained in the use of these vehicles in emergency mode so they are capable of operating with “due regard.” “Due regard” involves controlling the vehicle at all speeds as well as other factors.

After heart attacks, the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for firefighters is motor vehicle related. This involves wrecks of emergency vehicles in response or the return from a response and “struck-by” incidents.

I have had “pursuit driving” training, “emergency response” training and fire department EVOC I, II and III. Fire department EVOC happens to be the most lacking as far as actual training. I believe the lack of proper training prior to the use of certain vehicles may affect the jurisdiction regarding members and outside individuals should a catastrophic event occur.

I do not know of any fire department that provides driver training beyond general EVOC. Fire and police departments operate vehicles in the same fashion, outside of pursuit driving. Fire departments generally operate larger apparatus more frequently, but provide less training in vehicle operation. I know that there will be an expense involved, but if one catastrophic event is prevented, that expense is recouped.

Thomas S. Harrison

Montpelier, VA

The writer retired from the Virginia State Police in 2009 with over 22 years of law enforcement experience. He is a firefighter with the Ashland, VA, Volunteer Fire Department/Hanover County Fire and EMS, and consults on emergency management issues. He holds an associate’s degree in fire science technology from Northern Virginia Community College and certifications in Hazardous Materials Operations, Firefighter I, Firefighter II, and Emergency Vehicle Operation Class I, II and III from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. He is a member of the Virginia State Police Association, Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus in America, and Old Dominion Historical Fire Society.

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