Dallas Fire-Rescue Gives Seat Belt Pledge a Shot in the Arm

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The "Brian Hunton: National Fire Service Seat Belt Pledge" -- started by Firehouse.com contributor Dr. Burton A. Clark in 2006 -- recently marked an important milestone.

On May 8, the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department reached 100 percent compliance as all of its 1,748 members, uniformed and support staff, signed the pledge and viewed refresher training on roadway safety.

While there have been close to 200 departments with full compliance during the two-year existence of the pledge, Dallas Fire-Rescue is the first large-scale metropolitan fire department.

There are currently 53,460 signatures of fire service members across the U.S. promising to buckle up. Clark is hopeful that Dallas' accomplishment will spark some healthy competition among the bigger departments, further increasing that number.

"I think there's nothing like a little competition in the fire service," he said. "We all like to think we're the best ... Dallas and the other departments that have 100 percent compliance are the best at using their seat belts."

Last December, Lt. Lauren Brown was attending a class at the National Fire Academy in Emittsburg, Md. when she first found out about the pledge. Clark is an instructor at the academy.

Not only was it the first time Brown had heard about the pledge, but the fact that it's inspiration came from her own state gave it even more importance to her.

"It's embarrassing with Brian Hunton being from Amarillo that we hadn't heard of it yet."

Firefighter Brian Hunton was a member of the Amarillo, Texas Fire Department who lost his life after falling out of a fire truck while responding to a call on April 25, 2005. He was not wearing his seat belt.

At that point, Brown decided to take the pledge back to her firehouse in Dallas -- Station 43 -- and make it a New Year's resolution for its crew.

"I realized I wasn't doing my job," she said. "Here was this big fat rule that I wasn't enforcing"

Brown, a nine-year veteran of the department said that while there were long-standing rules within the department when it came to wearing seat belts aboard fire apparatus, but that they weren't enforced regularly.

"It wasn't a priority," she said. "It wasn't a willful violation; we were just focused on getting (to the scene). In the front seat of an ambulance we always buckled up, it just didn't cross our minds when we where in the fire trucks."

A department-wide effort soon followed and started from the top, down within the department, according to Brown. While the program was embraced by many firefighters, others worried there could be repercussions if they signed it and were found not wearing their seat belts.

"We didn't make this a punitive thing," she said. "It was just something we wanted everyone to promise to do."

"There's not an excuse you can come up with," she said. "We kept pushing it until everyone signed. We used peer pressure and made it a leadership issue.

"Once we pointed it out, officers were saying they couldn't believe we never thought about this before."

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