It is a tragedy we should never see happen — a firefighter's life cut short because of a vehicle accident. Yet each year, 25% of all line-of-duty deaths involve vehicle crashes. Many of these lives could have been saved if only the firefighter had taken a second to buckle their seatbelts...
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Departments also must establish and enforce policies and procedures that require safe vehicle behaviors, including seatbelt use. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) has collaborated with the USFA to help volunteer departments develop and implement vehicle safety policies. The Emergency Vehicle Safe Operations for Volunteer and Small Combination Emergency Service Organizations program includes best practices, motivational practices and standard operating guidelines (SOGs) to help volunteer and small combination departments decrease the risk of fatalities, injuries, costs and reduced efficiency associated with vehicle crashes.
The NVFC also has partnered with McNeil and Co.'s Emergency Services Insurance Program (ESIP) to develop a "STOP" training program designed to instill in emergency personnel the importance of first responder safety behind the wheel and train them in safe operational practices. The campaign aims to increase awareness and safe operational practices in the area of driver and road safety in apparatus as well as personal vehicles. Departments and local and regional emergency service organizations can use this training as part of their efforts to reduce the risk of firefighter death and injury from vehicle accidents.
The campaign will launch with the first training session in the program, "STOP: Seatbelts Top Our Priorities." As the title suggests, this first training module focuses on vehicle safety with an emphasis on seatbelt use. The 30-minute online training contains completion-tracking capabilities so departments can ensure their members have completed the course. Certificates of completion are available. See www.nvfc.org for more information on the "STOP" campaign and the first course.
Support for Pledge
In addition to safe vehicle and seatbelt training, the NVFC encourages departments to have all their members sign the International First Responder Seat Belt Pledge. The pledge was created in 2006 in memory of Firefighter Brian Hunton of the Amarillo, TX, Fire Department, who died in 2005 after falling from his apparatus on the way to a call. The pledge is supported by many national fire service agencies and groups, including the NVFC, NFPA, National Fire Academy, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). More than 850 departments and 150,000 firefighters have signed the pledge, making the commitment that they will improve their safety by wearing their seatbelts. The entire NVFC Board of Directors signed the pledge in 2010 to show their support for the campaign. In 2011, the NFFF incorporated the International First Responder Seat Belt Pledge into the Everyone Goes Home Campaign. Find the pledge and additional resources at everyonegoeshome.com/seatbelts.
Seatbelt use and safe vehicle practices are the easiest things first responders can do to protect themselves from preventable injury and possible death. Simple precautions like clicking a seatbelt and watching your speed significantly reduces the risk that a first responder will be killed or injured in a vehicle accident. We need to STOP ignoring the problem and start creating a culture in the fire service that expects and respects vehicle safety.
KENN FONTENOT is the National Volunteer Fire Council's Louisiana director and chair of the NVFC Health and Safety Committee. He is also a charter member and first fire chief of the LeBlanc Volunteer Fire Department. Fontenot is a principal member of the NFPA 1001 committee and alternate member of the NFPA 1021 committee. He also is the regional fire training coordinator at the Louisiana State University Fire and Emergency Training Institute and a past president of the Louisiana State Firemen's Association. He holds an associate's degree in fire science.