Seatbelts: The Hugh Lee Newell Story

The logic for not following a safety procedure because nothing bad ever happened to you or anyone you know, goes beyond seat belts, it is the root cause of our poor safety culture.


What a victory! Mrs. Vernon accomplished in five minutes what I failed to do with weeks of reasoning. She put a face on her family's tragedy, and ended resistance to seat belt use for all those young firefighters. Hugh Lee Newell would be honored by a new generation of seat belt wearing firefighters.

I wish I could say that seat belt usage was 100% in the Columbus Fire Department, but that wouldn't be the truth. I know that cautionary tales and regulations won't change years of ingrained behavior. What I can say is that a change was made in my life after hearing the story of Hugh Lee Newell. My seat belt is fastened every time I climb into the driver's seat, and my truck doesn't move until every passenger has seat belts secured. I know that with each retelling of the Hugh Lee Newell story, another Columbus Firefighter decides to buckle up. Leadership can spring from the lower ranks of the fire service. The fire service regularly displays courage and determination when dealing with public emergencies. Do we have the strength to display these same attributes towards our fellow firefighters? Can we love another firefighter enough to say, "Buckle Up"?


There are more apparatus drivers in the fire service then chiefs. When all drivers make seat belt use a priority, only then can chiefs take seat belts off their priority list because the department will be in compliance.

I want to thank Duane Hughes for sharing his story and demonstrating what leadership in the fire service is all about. Battalion Chief Truman Oswalt deserves recognition for honoring Hugh Lee and Driver Mike Chandler deserves a courage award.

Finally, all firefighters, officers, and chiefs need to promise Mrs. Deana Vernon and our own family that we will wear our seat belt. Because every life matters even if you do not know them.