The Role of Leadership and Seat Belts

After the line-of-duty-death of Captain John Keane, his department signed the seat belt pledge to honor him and make sure he didn't die in vain.


After the line-of-duty-death of Captain John Keane, his department signed the seat belt pledge to honor him and make sure he didn't die in vain.Firefighter deaths and injuries because of not using seat belts continue to be a tragedy in the fire service; however, there is hope because many leaders are trying to fix the problem. The story of four leaders from the State of North Carolina, the Waterbury, CT, Fire Department, the Chief of the New York City Fire Department and a West Point Cadet, will be presented in this article. These four examples may help guide the rest of us because that is what leaders do - they show us the way.

The State of North Carolina has 200 fire departments that have achieved 100 percent seat belt pledge participation. This accomplishment is due to the fact that the North Carolina fire service leadership made a commitment to change their seat belt culture. The state firefighters and fire chiefs associations made the seat belt pledge campaign one of their top priorities. Across the state, from large career departments to small volunteer departments, from firefighters to fire chiefs, all get the same message: take the pledge and buckle up. North Carolina is ranked number one in fire departments with 100 percent seat belt pledge participation they are showing the way for the other 49 states and the District of Columbia.

After the line-of-duty-death of Captain John Keane in an apparatus crash in 2007, the Waterbury Fire Department wanted to make a change. Wearing seat belts became a number one priority for all firefighters. As a department they did not want Capt. Keane to have died in vain. The entire fire department took the National Fire Service Seat Belt Pledge to honor John, commit to each other that everyone will wear their seat belt every time and to send a message to the nation's fire service about the importance of seat belts so other fire departments can avoid such a tragic loss.

When all fire chiefs make seat belt use a priority and hold everyone accountable our seat belt line of duty deaths will stop. FDNY Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano has put his leadership on the line when it comes to seat belts. The FDNY safety culture video was premiered at Firehouse Expo 2009 and part of that cultural change is getting firefighters to buckle up. During a Radio@Firehouse podcast Chief Cassano signed the National Fire Service Seat Belt Pledge and plans to send it throughout the department. Chief Cassano is showing all metro fire chiefs the way to get firefighters to buckle up.

The final story will be told by a West Point Cadet. The U.S. Military Academy is all about making leaders for the Army and our nation. The fire service's dysfunctional seat belt culture is very powerful; it is so powerful that it let Cadet Lewis Han disobey a direct order. West Point Cadets do not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do so the Cadet was required to tell this story. Cadet Han learned a valuable lesson from his experience riding on a fire truck. What he learned is a reflection on us. It is up to every fire service company officer to learn from this story.

Seat Belts and Leadership
West Point Cadet Lewis Han (D4 2010)

"Research has shown that lap/shoulder belts, when used properly; reduce the risk of fatal injury to the front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent."

I recently had the opportunity to ride-along with a fire department engine company. It was part of an internship in which I was taking a look at the need for management skills and core competencies (written and oral communications, interpersonal skills, group and team skills, and organizational skills) in fire officers as well as any other management position. I was able to ride-along with a particular fire engine company for a full 24-hour shift. Some of the things I learned, especially the unexpected lessons, seem to hold the greatest significance.

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