A Standard of Living

The American Firefighter is many things. In one day, they can be a mechanic, electrician, appliance repairman, teacher, plumber and furniture mover. They may perform traffic control duties one minute and receive a last chance confession the next.

From the definition, we can infer that accidents happen. We are also led to believe that they are unforeseen and unexpected. Carelessness and ignorance are listed as causal factors. Injuries may result and there is a possibility of legal action.

The science and study of risk management gives us an opportunity to minimize the chances of having accidents. We can identify the areas where the greatest hazards lie. We can then adjust our behavior to reduce the chances of contributing to the hazard. We are better prepared when an event occurs.

Identification of problem areas means there will be much fewer times when problems are unforeseen. We can train to expect the unexpected and we can train to adjust our reactions. Proper vigilence and due regard keep the nasty habits of carelessness and ignorance at bay. If they do not, then the company officer must step up to the plate and do their job. They must enforce the departmental policy.

The departmental SOP/Gs should reflect proper driving habits. In that document, there needs to be a clearly written policy about operating the emergency vehicle at stop signs and red lights.

One area where we, as emergency service providers, are most likely to hurt people rather than help them is driving on the open road. "Accidents" happen. Indeed, sometimes they do. But it is irresponsible to call something an accident if we were able to foresee a problem, identify a risk, plan for the management of the risk and then completely disregard safety for reasons that are not reasonable.

Coming to a complete stop at a stop sign or a red light just makes good sense. In the course of an emergency response, stopping and clearing the intersection, then proceeding will amount to a few more seconds before arrival at the scene. Clearing the intersection means the driver of the apparatus has stopped, looked at on coming traffic and made eye contact with the other drivers. The other drivers yielding and allowing the apparatus to proceed will minimize the chances of an "accident."

Seconds do count. Doing this job with fewer resources has already caused a greater delay in response times. However a simple cost analysis will show that it costs more to have an "accident' enroute to an emergency than it does to respond, arrive and mitigate the emergency. Financially, the fire department will be responsible. Another crew will need to respond to the initial incident and a third crew will be needed to respond to the scene of the "accident."

The cost of a loss here is in terms of money. What about the cost of human life? Injuries, time out of work, recovery for the people involved. What about injuries that cause long term side effects? A limp, loss of sight or the loss of a limb? What about the ultimate loss of human life? How can we really state that our job is to help people when we expose them to greater risk by our actions and poor decisions made in haste?

We need to employ sound judgment and write good policies. We need to enforce them and arrive safely. A well written SOP/G needs to state the apparatus/ driver will come to a complete stop, clear the intersection then proceed. This is a standard with which we can live.

JAMESON R. AYOTTE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a fire lieutenant/paramedic with the Amesbury, MA Fire Department. where he is the shift commander of Group 3. Lt. Ayotte holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and an M.S. in Physical Therapy from UMass-Lowell. He is a certified Fire Officer I, Fire Officer II and Fire Instructor I. In addition to working as a full time Firefighter, he works as an instructor at the Massachusetts Fire Academy. He can be reached at jamesonayotte@yahoo.com.