Failure to Communicate Listed by NIOSH in Va. LODD


A failure to communicate was among one of the causes for a crash earlier this year that claimed the life of a rookie Virginia firefighter.

NIOSH officials also say that the driver's failure to check the apparatus before leaving the scene and the icy road also were factors the wreck that killed Zachary Whitacre, a firefighter with Gore Volunteer Fire Department.

Whitacre, 21, had been a member for less than a year when he was killed in a fall from the tailboard of the department's tanker.

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A tanker from a West Virginia fire department lost most of its water en route to the fire, and the driver notified his dispatch about the icy conditions.

"The Tanker 14 driver reported that he had not heard the communication about the icy road condition over his frequency and was unaware of the ice on the roadway. The driver of Tanker 14 reported during interviews that he was driving the truck at approximately 45 miles per hour and, when he came around a curve in the roadway, he lost control of the truck on a large sheet of black ice. The tanker spun around a number of times before impacting a berm on the left side of the road," NIOSH investigators wrote.

The driver crawled out of the vehicle, and noticed the young firefighter lying in the road unresponsive. He thought he had remained at the fill site. Fellow responders immediately rendered care. As he was on the way to a landing zone, he went into cardiac arrest.

Among NIOSH recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters are properly trained to ensure that the apparatus is ready for the road before leaving the fire scene (including a driver walk-around)
  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters are properly trained and equipped to communicate task-level functions
  • Fire departments should ensure that fire department driver/operators are trained in techniques for maintaining control of their vehicle at all times
  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters from different departments can communicate with each other via radio
  • Fire departments should consider installing rear view camera(s) with monitor(s) inside the cab
  • Fire apparatus manufacturers should use engineering controls (such as electronic lockouts and engineering guards) to ensure that water dump valves cannot activate unintentionally.