Twelve firefighters have died in the line of duty since January 2007, in crashes without having their seat belt on. This must stop. We have no excuse. Almost 50% of firefighters nationwide do not use their seat belt. In some fire departments over 90% do not buckle up. Firefighting is dangerous; not wearing your seat belt if foolish, unprofessional, and in most states illegal. When you don't put your seat belt on, you dishonor all the firefighters who died to get seat belts put in apparatus. Shame on us if we do not fix this problem now.
The phrase hardball usually means that something is serious and effort is being excreted to make change by some type of force. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTA) "Click it or Ticket" campaign is just that. They make seat belts a priority for every officer and police agency in the country to give out tickets to everyone who does not have a seat belt on. Just the threat that the seat belt law will be enforced with a fine if you are caught not bucked up has pushed seat belt use to an all-time high of 89% nationwide. With the help of a $10,000,000.00 national advertising campaign and tickets with a fine, the NHTA has played seat belt hardball.
The National Seat Belt Pledge campaign is not hardball. First, there is no money for ads or staff or websites or material. Second, there is no federal agency in charge of firefighter safety much less enforcing the seat belt rules. Third, the fire service, as a culture, does not believe it needs to use seat belts. Fourth, most fire chiefs and fire officer do not enforce their own seat belt rules. Finally, too many firefighters believe that real firefighters cannot use seat belts because another company will steal their fire or a civilian will die because the firefighter will not get out of the apparatus quick enough to save them. (Actual excesses by firefighters)
So far over 40,000 firefighters nationwide have signed the seat belt pledge. Over 80 fire departments have 100% participation in the program and will get a certificate signed by the United States Fire Administration, United States Fire Academy, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, National Fire Protection and National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The program objective is 1,000,000 signatures. The impact objective is that no firefighter will die in 2008 because they did not have their seat belt on.
The Chesapeake, VA, Fire Department, under the direction of Deputy Chief E. E. Elliott, is leading the fire service in demonstrating the commitment to firefighter safety when it come to changing our seat belt culture to insure that everyone goes home. Some times it takes hardball.
Chief Elliott in his own words:
"During the very first National Firefighter Safety Stand-Down, our Department (Chesapeake Fire Department) focused its dialogue specifically toward encouraging and enforcing our existing polices regarding the use of seat belts. During that year's safety campaign, we initiated an internal "Safety Pledge Campaign" of our own. Our members were asked to make a "Pledge" that they would never ride in a vehicle without first buckling their seat belt. Each member making the "Pledge" received a special "Safety Award Certificate" signifying their commitment to driver safety and the safety of the members of their fire company.
This policy has been aggressively enforced over the last three years. Our Safety Officer repeatedly forwards LODD notifications, news articles, photographs of vehicle crashes, and eye-opening video clips to all our members to re-enforce and maintain a high level of safety awareness. After three years of aggressively pushing "change", developing and invoking a solid driving policy, as well as encouraging and mandating the use of seat belts every time a member sits in the seat, one would think this department had attained 100% policy compliance. I did.