Watch Your Backing!

If thought is given to the position necessary for a vehicle leaving its location, a simple adjustment can minimize or even eliminate the need for backing

This column is a component of VFIS' "Operation Safe Arrival" initiative, aimed at heightening safety awareness and reducing the frequency and severity of accidents involving emergency vehicles.

Emergency vehicle backing can be a very hazardous task that should not be taken for granted. There are many collisions and injuries that are a result of improper backing practices. Emergency vehicles of all types are especially hazardous because of the many blind spots interfering with the driver's ability to see hazards.

To reduce the risk of accident and injury, emergency service organizations should have standard operating procedures and training guidelines. While backing usually occurs at slow speeds, it accounts for a disproportionate number of minor low-speed accidents and has the potential for serious consequences. Some guidelines for backing an emergency vehicle include:

  • Park so as to minimize the need for backing. If thought is given to the position necessary for a vehicle leaving its location, a simple adjustment in the final placement can minimize or even eliminate the need for backing.
  • Give audible notice that backing will occur. If the vehicle is equipped with a back-up alarm, shift the vehicle to reverse while applying the brakes. This will initiate most back-up alarms. If the vehicle is not equipped with a back-up alarm, touch the horn lightly three times before beginning the back-up maneuver.
  • Use a spotter located at the left rear of the vehicle whenever backing. The driver must be able to see the spotter through the mirror and vice versa. The driver and the spotter must make eye contact. If the spotter disappears from the mirror, the driver must immediately stop.
  • If there is no spotter available:
    • Reconsider backing up. Is it really necessary?
    • Make a reasonable attempt to get someone to act as a spotter.
    • If a spotter cannot be obtained, get out of the unit and walk around the unit completing a "circle of safety" and survey the backing area. Before proceeding to back unit, being sure to also check overhead clearance. Give a final warning of two horn blasts just prior to backing
  • Understand hand signals and audible signals. Be sure that all drivers and spotters have been trained in the meaning of the signals. When using an audible signal (buzzer) one means stop immediately, two means go forward, and three means back up. Make visual and verbal contact with the spotter. "If you cannot see or hear the spotter, do not backup!"
  • Drivers must have a thorough knowledge of spotter hand signals.
  • The spotter hand signals to the driver indicating it is safe to begin backing.
  • The driver gives a two blast warning on the horn just prior to backing.
  • Use side mirrors whenever backing. The driver should not attempt to lean out the window or turn around trying to see. Periodically check the right side mirror for objects in the path of the vehicle.
  • Check the front corners of the vehicle, especially if the vehicle is turning while backing. Either the right or left front of the vehicle may swing around and strike a fixed object that did not initially appear to be a potential problem.
  • Maintain speed control. Backing should be done at an extremely slow speed. It is imperative to maintain tight control on the speed of the emergency vehicle.

Spotter responsibilities include:

  1. Conduct a "circle of safety" and survey the backing area and all other sides of the vehicle checking for hazards. Before proceeding to back unit, being sure to also check overhead clearance
  2. Communicate any observed hazards to the driver
  3. Place yourself eight to ten feet to the left rear of the unit
  4. Establish visual and verbal contact with the driver and continue eye to eye contact in the left rear view mirror at all times
  5. Be familiar with hand signals before allowing backing maneuvers to begin
  6. Stop the driver if any hazards are observed or if you are uncertain of the direction that the driver is maneuvering

In summary, backing a vehicle is as much a part of the driving process as any other component. If you can avoid backing, avoid it. Never be in a hurry. Know your surroundings before backing and use a spotter. Until next time, Be safe!

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