Each year firefighters are injured and killed with identified causes and contributing factors being related to the vehicles that are used in the performance of their job.
In 2004, the fatality related data indicated that there were 107 firefighter deaths. As it relates to emergency apparatus response situations:
- Twenty individuals died in vehicle accidents
- Three firefighters were killed when fire apparatus backed over them.
- A Pennsylvania incident occurred at the fire station and was not associated with an emergency response.
- Five firefighters were killed when they were struck by passing vehicles at the scene of an emergency.
- Additionally, four firefighters were killed in falls from fire department vehicles.
- A Massachusetts firefighter died when he fell from a responding engine company. This department also suffered a fatal fall injury involving fire apparatus in 1984.
- Seven deaths involved the crash of firefighters' personal vehicles.
- Three firefighters died in aircraft crashes; one in a medical helicopter and two wildland fire fighting aircraft.
- Five firefighters died in crashes that involved responding fire apparatus.
Injury related data is considered less significant here than accident causation. The VFIS program "Operation Safe Arrival", which is designed to help emergency service organizations enhance overall apparatus safety operations explains the major causes of apparatus accidents as being:
- intersection incidents,
- rollover incidents,
- excessive speed,
- personal vehicle related incidents,
- operations on highways being struck by other vehicles, and
- alcohol has been identified as causes in past years.
Additional data reported in the NFPA U.S. Fire Data Profile through 2003 indicated that there were 15,900 collisions involving fire department vehicles resulting in 850 firefighter injuries.
These can all be summarized as necessitating the development of best practices, standard operating procedures/guidelines, and enforcing those procedures/guidelines.
The National Fallen Firefighters' Everyone Goes Home Program identified several initiatives that deal with this issue and include:
- Firefighter Response Plan that involves:
- Getting fully dressed in full PPE from head to toe.
- Get in the vehicle
- Sit Down
- Fasten your seat belt
- Enjoy the ride with a driver who will get you there in one piece.
- It is not a race
- Safe is more important than fast
- Stop at red lights and stop signs
- If they don't get out of your way, don't run them over.
The USFA Document "Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiatives" details extensive methods to improve your vehicle operation program and enhance firefighter safety.
Couple these initiatives with the data indicated above and you are on your way to developing the criteria upon which to act locally to prevent firefighter accidents, injuries, and death as it relates to the individual firefighter - your most important asset.
If you don't make it to the emergency because of an accident you are of no value. If you don't make it back from the emergency because of an accident you risk loss of the use of the vehicle and possibly worse. If you cause property damage to others, injure or kill someone else because of an accident that you contribute to, you lose value and performance potential to the community - and maybe worse.
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. Jenaway, CSP, CFO, CFPS is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in Safety and Risk Management, in the insurance industry. Bill is also an adjunct professor in Risk Analysis in the Graduate School at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. 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.