The objectives of this new column are to dispel myths, spur discussion, educate, prevent accidents and promote the safe operation of emergency vehicles. This column will appear every other month. In this initial column, I will ask more questions than I answer. However, all questions will be answered in future issues of Firehouse.Com's Members Zone.
What was your last department training session like? What tools did you use? Maybe you started the saw, stretched a line or did some SCBA training. When was the last time your department had a training session devoted strictly for your apparatus drivers? I am not talking about Sunday morning road test or the "we'll let that new driver candidate get behind the wheel for a few minutes on the way to the training site." What I am talking about is a labor-intensive drivers' drill. Like most departments you may have never had a drivers' drill.
Firefighters spend many hours training. A majority of those training hours are spent on hose, ladders and SCBA skills. Meanwhile, we may or may not be called upon to use these skills on our next response. However, we must use our emergency vehicles on every response. Yet, the ratio of training hours to fire apparatus' use is low, and in some departments, almost non-existent. Why is it that the tool we train with the least (emergency vehicles) is the one we use most and the tools and skills we use less frequently, are the ones we spend the majority of the training time on? Does this make any sense? When we receive an alarm, we use our emergency vehicles 100% of the time - whether it be a chief's car, ambulance or fire apparatus. Yet, in many departments, specific training for driving emergency vehicles is almost non-existent. Driving the apparatus to the scene of an emergency is the most important job in the department. If the apparatus does not arrive safely, the chief cannot command, the firefighters cannot fight the fire and the person who called for help cannot be helped. A firefighter I work with told me the story of his first fire apparatus driving experience in his former career department. He was asked before the start of the shift if he could pump and drive the apparatus. He answered yes, and was assigned to drive for that shift. Lucky for that department, he was a good firefighter and had previous emergency driving experience that his department was unaware of. Could this happen in your department? This firefighter was assigned the most important task in the fire service, driving the apparatus, with no formal training.
When we go to any alarm, we may or may not use ladders, hose, SCBA or any other equipment carried on the rig. However, we must always our apparatus to get there. Maybe it is time, with the ever-present threat of large liability awards, and jail that we re-examine the way we drive, train, operate and maintain our fire apparatus.
In the fire service, we constantly talk about safety. Yet very little material, whether it be written, video or slides, are available on emergency vehicle operations compared with most areas of fire protection and suppression. Given that the aforementioned is important, you cannot use any of your knowledge in fire protection or suppression until the emergency vehicle operator delivers the crew and the equipment safely to the scene. The old adage "better to arrive later than planned than not to arrive at all" certainly fits this case. That is why Firehouse.Com's Members Zone now presents this column to promote better, safer, code 3 driving. Do not get the wrong idea that this column is just for emergency vehicle operators. Whether you are a fire chief, municipal officer, legal counsel, fire commissioner, city manager, apparatus driver (whether it be for fire or ambulance) or drive your personal vehicle to alarms, this column should be essential reading for you.