Fire Department Tanker Safety - Part II

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...


The statistic indicate that age and driver/operator experience may play a factor in the likelihood of a serious tanker crash. In the cases that were reviewed, the age group of 20 to 29 year-olds accounted for the largest number of fatal tanker crashes. This would tend to show that inexperience might be a significant causal factor in tanker crashes. This is also reflective of standard insurance industry actuary rates for correlating age and crash frequency.

It is also interesting to note where the victims who were fatally injured were riding on the apparatus at the time of the crash. Thirty-one of the 42 victims were the drivers of the apparatus. This is probably due to the fact that it is quite common for a tanker to respond with only the driver on board. Four of the documented crashes involved the death of both the driver and the right front seat passenger. There were only seven crashes in which the passenger was killed but the driver survived.

Time Of Day

TIME OF DAY
# OF FATAL CRASHES
Midnight to 2:59am
1
3am to 5:59am
3
6am to 8:59am
0
9am to 11:59am
2
Noon to 2:59pm
12
3pm to 5:59pm
9
6pm to 8:59pm
4
9pm to 11:59pm
5
Not Reported
2

A review of the reported times of day that the crashes occurred shows that most tanker accidents occur during daylight hours. The frame of noon through 6:00 pm accounted for 55% of the fatal tanker crashes. This statistic is consistent with other studies of fire apparatus and other emergency vehicle crashes.

Historically USFA and NFPA annual fire loss reports show that the greatest percentage of working fires and responses occur at night. The fact that most tanker and other emergency vehicle crashes occur during daylight hours seem at odds with these fire statistics and have been the subject on much speculation. One possibility is that drivers are more confident when driving in daylight than in dark. This confidence may translate into greater speed or overconfidence in one's driving ability. Both of those factors have been shown to be significant causes of emergency vehicle crashes. The reduced visibility that occurs during nighttime driving may actually save lives, as it forces the driver to slow down. Other causal factors that may be responsible for more daytime collisions include more civilian vehicles on the road that this time of the day and the greater use of mutual and automatic aid in many jurisdictions on daytime responses because of decreased numbers on volunteers available in individual departments.

Contributing Factors In Tanker Crashes

The case history information that was available for the 38 incidents that were studied did contain extensive information on the various causes and factors that led to the crashes. In virtually every case, there was more than one cause or factor listed as having played a significant role in the occurrence or the seriousness of the crash. The following table shows a compilation of the contributing causes for the 38 cases that were studied.

CONTRIBUTING FACTORS IN FATAL CRASHES
# OF FATAL CRASHES
Failure To Wear Seat belts
31
Wheels left the right side of the road
25
Excessive speed
21
Fatally injured individuals ejected from the apparatus
20
Overcorrection when attempting to bring right wheels back onto the road surface
19
Failure to negotiate a curve
17
Loss of control while descending a grade
6
Failure to follow posted speed recommendations on a curve
3
Mechanical failure
2
Poor road condition
1
Poor apparatus design
1
Driver inattention
1
Unknown
1
Impairment by prescription medication
1
Failure to stop at an intersection
1

The figures in this table show that in some cases firefighters are fairing no better than members of the general public. If you fail to wear your safety belt, there is a significantly greater chance you will be fatally injured in a collision. This is evidenced by the fact that failure to wear a seat belt was noted in 31 of the 42 fatalities (about 74%). While failure to wear a seat belt is rarely the cause of a crash, it often plays a significant role in the severity of injury to the victims.