For the first time in 2003, firefighter statistics from NIOSH and NFPA showed crashes were the leading causes of injuries and deaths.
As a member of "The Secret List" website I receive updates on many of the "near misses" and "hits" regarding fire and EMS injuries and fatalities. It amazes me how many of the injuries and fatalities are related to motor vehicle incidents. For the first time in 2003 firefighter LODD statistics from NIOSH and NFPA show MVA as a cause of trauma related death and injury superceding structural firefighting. The fireground has always been a dangerous place but it appears the more dangerous place is in the apparatus during emergency responses. In addition, we kill and injure a significant number of civilians while responding to emergencies.
In keeping with these findings I believe we need to re-evaluate our training priorities. Driver's training needs to be moved to the top of the list right up there with structural fire training, RIT, BSI, and responder personal fitness/wellness education.
As a driver training instructor I would like to offer the following five observations I have gleaned over the years. I have used these observations to develop a teaching tool which may be of help to some of you as you teach and train your drivers.
Driving emergency vehicles safely is not primarily about skill, hand eye coordination or reflexes. It is about...attitude. Let's face it as soon as we put on the uniform of a firefighter or EMS responder we are prone to feel better about ourselves and the fact we are there to provide a critical service. Add to that the public perception of us as "heroes" and you can see how easy it is easy to feel important. We are then given large vehicles with special equipment designed to allow us to respond "safely" to emergencies. These vehicles are bigger, shinier, and louder than your average car. We are allowed to go faster than civilians and are given "exemptions to the law which allow us to violate normal traffic procedures. At intersections people stop for us even though they have the right of way and when they see us coming they pull to the right and stop.
Since we are responding to "emergencies" we naturally take advantage of the exemptions and use our bigger louder vehicles to go faster and break laws all in the name of quick response times. All of this combined can give us an attitude that says we are more important than the other people occupying the roadways and that by virtue of the fact we are considered "Safety Forces" we are somehow inherently safer. Someone get a hook and get this guy off stage.
The truth is 68% of our most serious accidents occur during emergency responses. Fifty nine percent of the time the emergency vehicle operator is at fault. Why? Because we tend to think we are safer than other drivers and therefore we go too fast, follow too closely, and ignore common sense rules which we would never ignore if we were in our own car. The statistics seem to tell us the opposite. We are the dangerous ones on the roadways; we are the ones causing accidents all to save less than a minute on most response times. We need to rethink our positions as emergencies responders and remember our primary responsibility...public safety.
This brings me to the second observation. Responsibility; We have forgotten our "prime directive" if you will; public safety. The first thing we learn as emergency workers is that safety, safety, and safety is our first responsibility. Safety for ourselves and for the public. We will not needlessly endanger non-victims to save victims. This is most easily summed up in the EMS motto Do No Harm. We will not needlessly or recklessly endanger ourselves to save others. This is summed up in the firefighting principal of risk assessment; Risk nothing if nothing can be saved. Risk more to save a lot. Risk a lot to save a life.