We will examine in closer detail some of the statistics and causes associated with the fatal tanker collisions that occurred in the U.S. during the period of 1990 through 2001.In Part I of this series we brought to light the problem of fire department tankers being involved in a disproportionate number of collisions fatal to firefighters when compared to other types of fire apparatus. While the United States Fire Administration (USFA) estimates that tankers account for only 3% of all fire apparatus in the U.S., they are responsible for 22% of the deaths of firefighters who are killed in vehicle collisions. More firefighters are killed in tankers than in pumpers and aerial apparatus combined. Using this information the USFA undertook a study of the problems associated with operating fire department tankers. The results of this study were published in May 2003 in a report entitled Safe Operation of Fire Tankers (available at www.usfa.fema.gov). This report provides details information on the causes and prevention of injuries and deaths as a result of tanker collisions.
In Part II of this series we will examine in closer detail some of the statistics and causes associated with the fatal tanker collisions that occurred in the U.S. during the period of 1990 through 2001. It is important to note that the research used to developed the USFA's report and that forms the basis for this series of articles was limited to collisions that involved the death of one or more firefighters. Because of the weakness of data collection throughout the U.S. fire service it is impossible to get complete, accurate, and/or reliable information on tanker collisions that did not involve fatalities. Thus, the information contained in the report and in these articles provides insight into the factors associated with the types of collisions that possess the greatest potential for harm to firefighters.
Hypothetically, there is some suspicion that if it were possible to collect data on tanker collisions that were not fatal to a firefighter that some of the results would slightly different than those reported here. For example, through history we know that the most dangerous place during an emergency response and the location most likely to be involved in a collision is in an intersection. However, as you will see later in this article not a single fatal tanker accident in this study showed an intersection collision as being the primary contributing factor to the collision. That should not be interpreted as though tankers pose less of a danger going through an intersection than other fire apparatus. Tankers just as likely to be involved in intersection collisions as any other emergency vehicle. However, using the Gordon Graham "Rule of Lug Nuts" (he who has the greater number of lug nuts wins) it is likely that the vehicle a tanker collides with in an intersection is considerably smaller than the tanker, resulting in less danger to the tanker and its occupant(s) than the other vehicle.
With these things understood, let's review some of the statistics and causes associated with fatal tanker collisions.
Who Is Involved In Tanker Crashes?
During the period from 1990 through 2001 there were 38 fatal tanker collisions in the United States resulting in 42 firefighter fatalities. Thirty-four of the collisions involved the death of one firefighter and four of the collisions were fatal to two firefighters each. All 42 of the individuals killed in these crashes were volunteer firefighters. The fact that volunteer firefighters account for all of these crashes and fatalities should not be a surprise because volunteers generally protect rural areas where tankers are needed. Road conditions in the areas protected by volunteers also tend to be more challenging (more hills, sharp turns, poor road conditions) than those in areas protected by career firefighters. Therefore, it is only natural that volunteers would account for most crashes involving tankers.