Winter Driving Tips for Apparatus Operators

 


  For some reading this, winter may just have begun; for others, you may be well into winter. For new and seasoned apparatus operators this can be a very challenging time, to say the least. But questions come to mind: "What has your fire department done to prepare new apparatus operators for...


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For some reading this, winter may just have begun; for others, you may be well into winter. For new and seasoned apparatus operators this can be a very challenging time, to say the least. But questions come to mind: "What has your fire department done to prepare new apparatus operators for winter driving?" and "What has your fire department done to prepare experienced operators for winter driving?" The answers are as varied as the fire service itself. Preparing for winter driving in many cases acts as a snapshot of how the fire department is trained, organized, supervised and operates.

Some fire departments are supervised by the "fair-weather fire chief." The fair-weather fire chief will only let fire apparatus leave the fire station on driver training on a sunny, 70-degree Sunday. Yet this same chief has the expectation that apparatus are going to show up safely in all kinds of weather and conditions 24/7/365. In February, at night, with a 30-mph wind and six inches of snow on the road, going to a confirmed working fire with people trapped, it is no time for any operator — but especially a new operator — to figure out how the apparatus is going to handle and stop under these circumstances and conditions. Also, understanding that most apparatus operators are supposed to be familiar with and safely operate multiple types of apparatus built in different years by different manufacturers. This certainly sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Some fire departments have the "proactive fire chief" who encourages the department's apparatus operators to train in and for inclement weather. That is not to say that the fire chief should let apparatus operators train in a blizzard or an ice storm; common sense should prevail. However, letting operators take the apparatus to a large parking lot or some other controlled environment during daylight hours with several inches of snow cover to figure out how the apparatus and the operator are going to handle inclement weather seems to be a prudent approach. This is especially true if the chief wants the apparatus to show up in one piece during inclement weather, at night with the stress of a response.

Billy Goldfeder's "Firefighter Close Calls" website recently reported on an apparatus crash that was blamed on winter road conditions. Two Ontario firefighters were released from a hospital and were recovering from injuries suffered when their fire apparatus crashed. According to the website, "The men were responding to a car crash on Highway 401 around 9:15 A.M. Saturday when their vehicle lost control and collided with a tree. One of the men suffered a broken arm and the other suffered lacerations. A winter storm slicked roads and there was a flurry of calls to crashes and the police are blaming road conditions. The truck, a three-quarter-ton specially outfitted pickup, was totaled. The truck slid off the road and the driver's-side door was wedged against the tree."

Here are a few winter driving tips for apparatus operators:

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