VFIS' Operation Safe Arrival

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.

A 21-year-old firefighter dies of multiple blunt-force injuries when the tanker he is driving veers off the road and rolls over...

Responding to a mutual-aid call, a fire chief is killed when the tanker he is driving at 58 M.P.H. skids out of control on a rain-slicked road...

A firefighter, responding in his personal vehicle, is seriously injured when he swerves to avoid a truck at an intersection and skids into a city bus...

Perhaps you've read about such accidents in an emergency services publication. On the other hand, maybe one of them hit closer to home, and the story made your local newspaper. Either way, the news isn't good. According to the NFPA, fire department emergency vehicles were involved in an estimated 14,900 collisions in 2001 while responding to, or returning from, incidents. Firefighters' personal vehicles were involved in 1,325 collisions. Together, they resulted in 1,100 firefighter injuries. And that doesn't count injuries sustained by civilians.

Even worse, 24 firefighters - 17 of whom died in crashes - were killed in 2001 while responding to or returning from alarms: the second most common activity resulting in firefighter fatalities.

The statistics are alarming. In its landmark Firefighter Fatality Retrospective Study: 1990-2000, the U.S. Fire Administration noted that getting to a fire or accident is very dangerous, especially for volunteer firefighters. Since 1984, motor vehicle accidents have accounted for 20 to 25-percent of firefighter fatalities every year. One quarter of all firefighters who die in motor vehicle accidents are killed in private or personally owned vehicles. In addition, more firefighters are killed in tanker collisions than in engines and ladders combined.

Emergency service injuries and fatalities like these are tragic. Compounding this tragedy are the injuries, deaths, and accompanying litigation that can occur when citizens are involved. Yet, with proper driver training, public education programs, and emergency vehicle response guidelines, many of these accidents can be avoided.

We at VFIS are committed to reducing needless intersection, road, and traffic accidents involving the emergency services. That is why we are implementing Operation Safe Arrival. It's a campaign aimed at demonstrating the scope of the problem, exploring some of the attitudes and misconceptions that need to be changed, and providing basic safety programs designed to help reduce needless accidents and collisions. This is the first in a series of articles addressing various aspects of emergency vehicle safety, from proper use of lights and sirens to safe intersection practices.

We encourage you to read the articles in this series, share them with your colleagues, and urge them to join in our campaign. We don't want you to become another statistic. Remember, you can't help your community if you never make it to the scene.