Back To Basics: How Big Is Your Department’s Checkbook?

Do you drive fire apparatus without any training? Do you have any certificates for emergency vehicle driving, pumping or aerial operations? Did you ever drive the apparatus through a stop sign without stopping? Did you ever drive the...


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Do you drive fire apparatus without any training?

Do you have any certificates for emergency vehicle driving, pumping or aerial operations?

Did you ever drive the apparatus through a stop sign without stopping?

Did you ever drive the apparatus through a red light without stopping?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then you had better read the review below or be ready at the very least to have your or your department's checkbook handy to pay out a big settlement!

For most of us, we will need to keep reading. Much has been learned over the last decade about emergency vehicle driving. One point that is really quite obvious but undiscovered by this author until recently was the fact that we as firefighters by our very nature are risk takers. At every fire, every emergency, every rescue and yes even every call that we respond to we take calculated risks. We as firefighters are in a high-risk occupation. In a large percentage of our calls we take these risks with everything working out in our favor and the fire or emergency is brought to a successful conclusion.

One would only have to look at recent events within the New York City Fire Department, however, to realize what can happen when risks are taken and things do not work out well at all. Then, with my interest in safe emergency vehicle operations, I decided to investigate the possibility of this risk-taking behavior being an inherent part of emergency vehicle driving. So the question is, do we drive emergency vehicles using risk-taking or high-risk behaviors?

The answer would have to been an overwhelming yes. Now, put this fact together with a young firefighter who believes that he or she is invincible and a lack of experience behind the wheel of an emergency vehicle and we have an accident waiting to happen. This could begin to explain why young firefighters driving to calls, whether in fire apparatus or their personal cars, represent such a high risk on the nation's highways and have such a high line-of-duty death rate.

With the United States becoming more crowded, which equates to more cars, more pedestrians, more red lights and stop signs, and yes more fire apparatus, going through a red light in a fire truck without due regard for other users of the highway and not stopping is high-risk behavior. There are no "Emergency Vehicle Operations Cops" watching us drive fire apparatus.

There now is another behavior at work: acceptance by deception. Let's say you blow through an intersection at 56 miles per hour. Why did I pick 56 mph? Because it comes out of a case study in Indiana, where the operator of a fire apparatus blew through a red light at 56 mph and killed a female in the car that he struck. So if you blow through an intersection at 56 mph and no one says anything to you - i.e., a chief, company officer or a fellow firefighter - then you as the driver believes it is the right thing to do, even though in your heart of hearts you know it is morally wrong.

What about the apparatus operator who increases his or her speed with each successive run until the apparatus is going five, then 10, then 15 miles per hour over the posted speed? Why are we doing this? Because we are risk takers and we have acceptance by deception. Acceptance by deception is defined as a dangerous act or high-risk behavior that is believed to be acceptable by the operator because authority figures have failed to discipline or have looked the other way as the behavior is being practiced. This in turn creates an air of deception as the operator believes through the lack of discipline or having authority figures look the other way that the behavior is now acceptable, even though the operator knows that the behavior is wrong.

By this silent acceptance, operators deceive themselves into believing that what they are doing is right when everyone knows that it is wrong. You can do the same behavior - for instance, speed - and no one says anything to you, but more importantly you don't hit anyone and you do not get in an accident. Not getting into an accident had nothing to do with your driving skills, but rather just your good fortune on that particular run.

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