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As each of you and all of us at Firehouse® work together to reduce firefighter injuries and deaths, some challenges are more difficult than others. This month, we will focus on what we feel should be the more easily managed risks of firefighters not getting hurt or killed by our own apparatus. Instead of our usual format, where readers write in, this month we will look at some recent injuries and tragic losses as well as close calls involving firefighters and apparatus.
How do we get killed when using our own apparatus? Some of the most common reasons are:
- Firefighters not wearing seatbelts prior to an accident or unexpected vehicle movement.
- Apparatus crashes resulting in death or injury due to the crash and often due to the above – not wearing seatbelts.
- Apparatus backing up and hitting, crushing or running over firefighters.
While every fire department must develop – and enforce – its own applicable policies related to the backing up of apparatus, here is a sample drill and policy that can be used to start that development. The establishment of an applicable guideline or policy is only the first step. The additional steps include training (both classroom and practical hands-on, initially and regularly) and then clear respect and enforcement of these policies that can and will make a difference in getting all firefighters home safely after every alarm. Click Here to download the drill (PDF)
As far as the seatbelt issue is concerned, we conducted an extremely in-depth and not-so-scientific study and evaluation. After hours of research and study, we came to the following solution for the problem: Wear your seatbelt! Officers, don’t even think about allowing the vehicle to move until you are belted in. Apparatus drivers, same thing. And now that you are both belted in, do not budge the apparatus until everyone is belted in.
What if they don’t belt in? Don’t move the apparatus. If they get hurt, you will be held responsible. Want to see firefighters put their belts on? Tell them that “we aren’t going to leave for this fire until you do.” Some firefighters claim they can’t don their SCBA while belted in – then have them wait until they get to the fire.
Officers, you are officers all the time, not just when “crawling down the hallway.” Enforce the seatbelt policy so you won’t have to explain to some kid why his or her Dad was tossed through a windshield because his seatbelt was not on. Are you fully responsible? Yes, but so are the firefighters, who must also take personal responsibility to take care of themselves.
Some fire departments are now specifying “Seatbelt Assurance Systems” to assure that no fire apparatus is delivered without a system that helps manage the problem of members being seatbelted. Sometimes, “mechanical solutions” work better than the human solutions. One department has made “not wearing a seatbelt when any fire department apparatus is moving” a “two-hit offense.” What does that mean? It means that the failure to wear your seatbelt the first time will cost you time off and the second time you get caught will make you a former firefighter. Does that chief care too much? It’s a matter of priorities.
Apparatus crashes continue to also be a problem. What is the solution? Aggressive driver training programs that will not allow someone to become “qualified” without becoming an expert is one solution. For years, apparatus training has focused on pump pressures and ladder placement. Those are important, but only recently has driver training become a more serious issue. Why? Because we keep crashing. Why do we crash? Answers include failure to use caution while driving, failure to stop at red lights, failure to stop at stop signs and failure of the officer to enforce apparatus-driving policies.
What about the legal status of your apparatus drivers? Are their drivers’ licenses valid? How do you know?