RI Responders Balk at Seat Belt Repeal Measure

A bill awaiting the governor's signature would allow drivers of emergency vehicles to leave seat belts dangling.


Don’t expect responders in Rhode Island to leave their seat belts dangling just because their legislators say it’s OK.

In fact, the Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs (RIAFC) is asking Gov. Lincoln Chafee to veto the measure exempting the drivers of emergency vehicles from wearing seat belts.

“We were completely caught off guard on this. We learned about it (the bill) Tuesday when an article came out in a newspaper. We had no idea because it was a line in legislation entitled ‘Traffic Laws.’ Since then, we’ve been busy,” said Rick Susi, RIAFC executive director.

“I can’t imagine why in the world the state police would want this,” he said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “How can a few seconds to unbuckle a seat belt mean so much?”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Ray Hull, who also is a sergeant in the Providence Police Department.

Efforts to reach Hull failed on Friday.

S­­usi said he asked the sponsor to amend the bill and eliminate emergency responders, but he wouldn’t budge.

Right now, the governor has three choices – sign it, veto it or ignore it. If Chafee ignores it, it will go into law in 10 days.

“It’s just ridiculous. This goes against all training and logic. Everyone knows one of the most dangerous times is during response.”

Susi was headed to the governor’s office Friday afternoon.

Curt Varrone, a fire official in Exeter, RI, said of the repeal: “Good leaders will still require their firefighters to wear their seat belts regardless of the law.”

Also, longtime seat belt advocate, Dr. Burt Clark called the law absurd.

“There’s a belief that police officers and firefighters have to be fast. You have to come fast to save my life. But, that’s just not right,” he said. “How long, how many seconds does it take to buckle a seat belt?”

Clark said there’s simply no excuse for not spending those few seconds to buckle up. He added that it’s time to think about how unrestrained responders killed in crashes are honored.

“Should we be honoring them as heroes...?"

Annually, many firefighters, EMS personnel and police officers are killed or seriously injured after being ejected from vehicles where their seat belts are left hanging.