How Do You Get Firefighters to Wear Their Seatbelts?

With all the risks a firefighter assumes, how we as a discipline can tolerate anyone not wearing his or her seatbelt is beyond my comprehension.


Captain Bill Brooks of Engine 1 realized that when he closed the cab door there was very little room for him to get his hand on the seatbelt to pull it down and attach it. (Photo 1) So, he tried fastening the seatbelt before he closed the door and it worked without a problem or loss of response time. (Photo 2.) Captain Brooks said: "Chief Palamaro explained it to us as a safety issue and it is a rule. As officers we are to follow and enforce rules, Bob is trying to make us betters leaders. The Chief expects enforcement because he will enforce himself." Captain Brooks continues: "My guys have been great, it is a mutual enforcement I say seatbelts if I forget the guys remind me."

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Photo 4 - Photo By Burton Clark
He also attached a job aid (piece of duck tape with the word belts) to the dashboard to remind him and his crew.

Captain Bob Van Dyke of Ladder 1 needed to move the SCBA in the cab so he could get the seatbelt on. The SCBA was at the officer's back it was moved to the middle seat position. (Photo 3) He also attached a job aid (piece of duck tape with the word belts) to the dashboard to remind him and his crew. (Photo 4) Captain Van Dyke admitted he would not go a block down the street from his house to visit his parents without his seatbelt on. He said, "I also always use the seatbelt when I'm acting battalion chief. So why not in the ladder, it just makes sense."

Chief Palamaro also understood the importance of informal leadership in the fire service. In this regard, senior firefighter Joe Ryan of Ladder 2 was the key. Ryan is a very well respected firefighter seasoned, knowledgeable, and competent. The person you want with you on a working fire. If Bob could get his friend Joe to buy in on the use of seatbelts the other firefighters would natural follow his lead. Joe instantly became a seatbelt disciple when Bob explained the issues.

Firefighter Al Mallen of Engine 2 remembers when Chief Palamaro talked to the troops at roll call. "The Chief requested the men buckle up 'Lets make a conscious effort to do this' is what Bob said." Mallen recalls that firefighter Joe Ryan had started buckling up. Mallen said, "I wasn't taught that buckling up was important in rookie school. The chief is counting on us to be safe. You cannot argue with that. Chief Palamaro is setting the example he buckles up." Firefighter Mallen concludes: "Each captain needs to enforce it if it is to go citywide. I don't want to get my captain jammed up. It needs to be reinforce at the officer meetings, it is a rule, it is the right thing to do, and it is the safe thing to do."

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Photo 5 - Photo By Burton Clark
The way some of the seats are mounted on the ladder trucks (too close) makes it difficult to buckle up.

There is more work to do. The way some of the seats are mounted on the ladder trucks (too close) makes it difficult to buckle up. (Photo 5) The department is working on a solution.

Can you get your firefighters to wear their seatbelts? YES! It will take soul searching, unlearning bad habits, learning good habits, engineering, and leadership. Whether you are a chief, company officer, senior firefighter, or rookie firefighter you can do it. BUCKLE UP! That's an order - we can all live with.


Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO is the Management Science Program Chair for the National Fire Academy and Director of an Emergency Support at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. . Burt writes and lectures nationally on fire service research and professional development. If you would like to contact Burton, he can be reached at burton@firehousezone.com