By Chris McLoone
I thought we were doing pretty well during 2013 regarding motor vehicle accidents involving fire apparatus.
I would never kid myself and assume that we would get through a year without any apparatus accidents. They are called accidents for a reason. But then right at the end of the year, there seemed to be a flurry of accidents. In one state, a state trooper and two firefighters were injured when a police cruiser struck the apparatus. I’m not ready just yet to discuss that the apparatus operator in this case is 74 years old. But, stay tuned because that discussion is coming.
In another state, an apparatus rollover injured two firefighters. In this case, the apparatus was reportedly run off the road and ended up on its roof. A week before that, an apparatus accident injured the civilian driver involved in the crash a day after a crash involving an apparatus and SUV injured four civilians, two critically.
Amid this troublesome spate of apparatus accidents came news that one fire department discovered after a crash involving two apparatus that most of its firefighters don’t wear seat belts to or from emergency incidents. Additionally, it uncovered that many of the apparatus in this department’s fleet had safety devices, like seat belt alarms, disabled. The story made its way to the newswires and was also covered by the local news. I think it’s great that it received the attention it did.
Let’s talk about seat belts first. To address the seat belt problem, the department mentioned above is now adding a reminder to all dispatches that members wear their seat belts en route to the call. This isn’t a really new concept. I was listening to some online audio recently of a larger fire department. In years past when dispatchers there transmitted a box alarm, they would end the transmission with, “All operators use caution when responding.” However, when I was listening recently, that phrase was replaced with reminders to use caution, wear seat belts, and so on. And, this really has me thinking: In this day and age, why should any department have to go to such lengths to ensure its personnel wear seat belts? We wear them in our cars. We tell our children to wear them. It is absolutely unacceptable that we don’t assume ownership of our own safety to and from emergency incidents.
That’s a little bit of a change of course for me-calling into question whether we own our safety. In previous columns, I’ve called on the officer riding the seat to ensure his crew is belted before departing the firehouse. But at this stage of the game, he should not have to. Twenty years ago when I started my first academy classes, I recall my instructor telling us that as hard as it might be to consider, we are number one, not the victim we are searching for. If things go south, we are to consider our safety first. The concept is hotly debated, but my reason for bringing it up here is that from a very early point, looking out for our own safety is drilled into us. Why are we not translating that into our response to and from the scene? Wear your seat belt. It’s a real easy direction.
Now, as far as tampering with safety devices, we are passed the point of worrying about who did it and why. I’m sure it has happened in other places. But, consider the ramifications of tampering with such safety devices. When your truck is delivered, it is compliant with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1901), Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. NFPA 1901 compliance involves many, many features designed to keep you safe during an emergency response-and even operating at nonemergency speed. In what world does it make sense to tamper with these safety devices, rendering the apparatus noncompliant? It absolutely boggles my mind that anyone would consider this a good idea.
Departments, assume a zero tolerance policy for not wearing seat belts. And anyone who tampers with a safety device, in my opinion, should be severely reprimanded at the least or fired. Such tampering compromises the safety of fellow firefighters. I know I wouldn’t want that on my conscience should my department’s men and women be severely injured or killed in an accident after such tampering.
In this day and age, why should any department have to go to such lengths to ensure its personnel wear seat belts?