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Safety 101 - Lesson 24

Intersection crashes can be prevented by three key strategies.

Each year, it has been estimated that over 3,000 intersection crashes occur that involve fire and EMS vehicles. It is believed that the overwhelming majority of these collisions can be averted.

Fundamentally, intersection wrecks can be prevented by using three key preventative strategies:

  • Don't go through the intersection without having clear passage
  • Accounting for all lanes of traffic before moving through the intersection
  • The use of an emitter does not guarantee safe passage

These principles can be expanded into three major categories of intersections and specific preventative practices at each type intersection. The categories are controlled intersections, uncontrolled intersections and railroad crossings. Fatal emergency service vehicle crashes have occurred at each of these three venues.

  • At controlled intersections consider the following preventative efforts:
    • Don't rely on warning devices to clear traffic
    • Scan intersections for possible hazards
    • Slow down before you reach the intersection
    • Change siren cadence - 200 feet prior
    • Scan intersection for clear passing options
    • If all lanes cannot be accounted for, don't move through intersection
    • Establish eye contact with drivers
    • Account for traffic one lane at a time, treating each lane as a separate intersection
  • Similarly, at uncontrolled intersections
    • Don't rely on warning devices to clear traffic
    • Scan intersections for possible hazards
    • Slow down before you reach the intersection
    • Change siren cadence - 200 feet prior
    • Scan intersection for clear passing options
    • If all lanes cannot be accounted for, don't move through intersection
    • Establish eye contact with drivers
    • Account for traffic one lane at a time, treating each lane as a separate intersection
  • Finally, at railroad intersections
    • Turn off all sirens and air horns
    • Operate the motor at idle speed
    • Turn off any other sound-producing equipment or accessories
    • Open the windows and listen for a train's horn

To validate these practices and to consider another perspective, consider NIOSH findings of 35 fatal emergency vehicle crashes between 1999 and 2004. The analysis found:

  • 25 of 34 (71 percent) reports found seat belts were not in use at the time of the crash
  • In 15 of 35 incidents (43 percent), recommendations were made for the development and implementation of standard operating procedures related to vehicle operations
  • In 13 of 35 incidents (37 percent), recommendations were made for the implementation of driver training programs
  • In a11 35 incidents (100 percent), recommendations were made relative to driver training responsibility standard operating procedures being developed and implemented.

Lesson #24
At all times, and under emergency conditions as well as routine driving, make sure the intersection is clear before proceeding into it.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!


DR. WILLIAM F. JENEWAY, CSP, CFO, CFPS, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in safety and risk management in the insurance industry. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management. He has partipated the NVFC Corner podcasts on Radio@Firehouse.com. To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.

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