Aggressive Fire Truck Driving Analysis

 

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By Chris Daly

Over the past several weeks, there has been a video circulating the Internet that shows a responding tiller ladder in the state of Maryland. The video clearly depicts the ladder truck proceeding through a negative right-of-way intersection without stopping for a steady red light. I have spent the past few weeks monitoring the comments that have been posted under this video on social media outlets. I must confess that I found the number of comments supporting this type of behavior extremely disturbing. While I would expect these types of immature comments from younger firefighters whose profile pictures depict colorful muscle cars, the amount of “older” firefighters supporting this type of aggressive driving surprised me.

As someone who spends a great deal of time reading the comments under these types of videos to gauge the “pulse” of emergency vehicle drivers, I have discovered that almost every one of these videos contains the same types of comments when posted. These comments can be broken down into several response types, such as:

  1. “You weren’t there, so you can’t comment.” OK, you are correct. I wasn’t there. However, most firefighters do reach a point in their careers when they are able to effectively judge the actions of other firefighters based on photographic or video evidence. Furthermore, as a crash reconstructionist, I can assure you that this video provides an enormous amount of valuable court-admissible evidence, which provides a great deal of insight into what took place. Just because you don’t like someone’s opinion doesn’t mean you can hide behind the “you weren’t there” defense. Most jury members weren’t present at a murder or robbery scene, but our justice system still lets them judge someone’s actions based upon the available evidence.
  2. “If your house was on fire you’d want them to do that.” No, actually I wouldn’t. I would want the responding firefighters to drive safely and make sure they arrive at my house to put the fire out. May there be a time or two in your career where seconds make a difference? Perhaps. However, the absolute risk of speeding and driving through red lights does not justify this defense. The laws of Newtonian Physics do not change just because you are driving to a house fire instead of a fire alarm. The fire truck will crash regardless. Furthermore, my wife and kids drive down the highway much more frequently than my house catches fire. Therefore, I would rather roll the dice and ask that you kindly stop at red lights and stop signs so as not to broadside our vehicle and kill my family.
  3. “If you haven’t crawled down a hallway, held a bleeding child, (insert your choice), you have no idea what we do.” Again, I disagree. The public knows what unsafe driving looks like. The fact that they have never crawled down a burning hallway has no bearing on the fact that they are able to understand that two objects can’t occupy the same space at the same time—hence the need to stop at red lights and stop signs. As a matter of fact, I would argue that if a civilian understands the danger of blowing a red light, the concept should be pretty obvious to a trained emergency responder.
  4. “If the idiot civilians would just get out of the way, there wouldn’t be a problem.” I’ve discussed this in prior articles. Most of the time the public has no idea that we are about to blow through an intersection. Studies have shown that the effective warning distance of an emergency siren at a 90-degree intersection averages around 40 to 60 feet. If a civilian vehicle is crossing an intersection with a steady green light at a posted speed limit of 40 mph, the driver will have no time to perceive, react ,and skid to a stop before an emergency vehicle pulls out in front of it. Your DUTY as an emergency vehicle operator is to provide an adequate notice of approach while taking into consideration the limitations of your emergency warning devices. Just because you can hear the siren inside the cab of your apparatus does not mean that everyone else sharing the road can hear it as well. Assuming that cross traffic knows you’re coming and simply blowing through an intersection is not driving with “due regard.” The fact that a civilian didn’t hear you doesn’t make him an “idiot.” The laws of physics are once again stacked against us…more than likely the civilian doesn’t hear us coming because of the dynamics and behavior of sound—hence the need for complete stops at red lights and stop signs.
  5. “We shouldn’t Monday Morning Quarterback.” Yes we should—all the time. There is a reason why the best sports teams and sports players sit and watch videos for eight hours a day: to learn and especially to learn from mistakes. To ignore a problem and to ignore an unsafe act and hide behind the “Monday Morning Quarterback” statement is unprofessional. The only way to learn and progress as a profession is to examine, admit, and learn from our mistakes. Videos like this provide valuable training opportunities that should not be ignored. I find it almost amusing that firefighters love to post videos when things go right but the minute things go wrong no one is allowed to see or talk about it.
  6. “I see absolutely nothing wrong with this.” Really, Dude? Nothing? Not even a little bit? If you’re serious, I would pull your driving certification in a heartbeat. The fact that you see nothing wrong with proceeding through a negative right-of-way intersection with barely a tap of the brakes tells me you shouldn’t be within six feet of an apparatus steering wheel.
  7. “Emergency vehicles have big bumpers to push things out of the way.” True story. Posted by someone. I stopped reading and grabbed a beer…

So with all this being said, there are now two groups of people. One group is saying “You go, Dude,” while the other group is out in the shed trying to find a torch and pitch fork. So with this in mind, let’s examine the scenario from an objective standpoint using the readily available video evidence.

In order to complete this analysis, we must examine both the video, the geography of this intersection ,and the physics of the moving tiller ladder. Using a crash reconstruction CAD program, I was able to drop a satellite image of the intersection into the program and take some measurements. These measurements will be pretty accurate. Truthfully, I was going to hop in the car and examine the intersection in person, but Mrs. Daly couldn’t spare me for six hours during the holiday season.

 

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