By Ron Kanterman
So, in Journal Entry 14 (posted December, 2011), we discussed the merits of the Everyone Goes Home, Courage to be Safe program; where we are, and where we’re going. Indeed, the low hanging fruit is the driving issue. Statistically, the number of members killed driving POV’s and/or apparatus has markedly dropped. It’s pretty basic stuff. Seatbelts, speed, and intersections. If we look at these in their most basic forms, they make the most sense. Buckle up, slow down, and stop for red lights and stop signs. The NFPA recorded that from 1977-2007, 932 firefighters were killed in vehicle accidents. For purposes of round numbers, that’s almost a thousand of us that never went home because of a driving issue. Are all of these the fault of our people? Probably not. Are most of them the fault of our people? Probably. Listen gang, this is the easy one. To date, 6 of the 32 LODD’s nationwide were vehicle fatalities. We can do better. It has to be a constant push from the Chief on down. Front seat officers and the drivers themselves all must take responsibility. In fact, each and every member must take stock in themselves, their own safety, and the safety of those around them whether it’s their brothers and sisters in the firehouse or the citizens they swore to protect. Life Safety Initiative #4 reads ‘All firefighters must be empowered to stop unsafe practices.’ Empower your people to ‘say something’ so if it doesn’t look or feel right it’s OK to chime in. Everyone on the crew has to be able to say, ‘hey driver, knucklehead, dopey, speedy, Andretti (or any other endearing term) slow down!’ And for our volunteers responding in their POV’s, perhaps a short suspension for traffic violations is in order.
Yes, a time proven method of staying in the vehicle versus being tossed out when it rolls, crashes, slides, hits something or stops wheels up. This, I think is a good thing. I love hearing all the excuses (and that’s all they are, excuses) of why guys can’t buckle up. The most popular excuse is putting the air pack on in the jump seat. When the ‘pack in the seat’ system was invented, it was a good idea for its time. Get of the rig readier and faster and get in quicker. Bull! The fact remains that we’re not really getting off the rig and heading directly into a structure to make a difference of any kind. We still get off the rig, do size up, stretch lines, throw a ladder perhaps, and then maybe go in. There are a few remedies here.
- Get in the seat. Put your pack on. Buckle up. (Yes, it can be done.)
- Get in the seat. Don’t put your pack on. Buckle up. When you get to the fire, unbuckle and put your pack on. (Yes, this can be done.)
- Put the air packs back in the side compartments. Get in the seat. Buckle up. Unbuckle upon arrival. While you’re throwing your air pack on over your head, do a ‘size up and cinch up’ and plan your attack with your crew.
- Consider ordering new apparatus with overhead pull down seatbelts like the flight attendants have on jets. It’s got to be easier than reaching around.
- Consider ordering new apparatus with regular seats and place the packs back in the side compartments. (The seats will be more comfy when on longer rides, inspection duty, and other non-emergency details.)
- Consider that every time you get on an apparatus, think about your survivability if it crashes.
Speed kills. It’s as old as me. (Speed the drug and speed the speed.) There are hundreds of thousands of accident data that proves this theory. We still lose 50,000 Americans in vehicle crashes each year across the U.S. It’s also proven that people don’t get killed, severely injured, or ejected in low speed crashes. We in the emergency services should be setting the example and bumping the bar when it comes to driving and traffic safety. We are certainly no good to our customers if, in fact, we don’t get there. What if your family was hanging out of a window waiting for a ladder or entangled in a car waiting to be extricated? Think about getting to the scene safely so you can perform the duties you were trained for. Think about getting to the scene safely so you can make a difference in someone’s life. Think about getting to the scene safely and returning the same way. Just think! (Tom Brennan said; ‘we need trained thinking firefighters to be successful.’)
As we know, not all crashes happen at intersections. We suffer roll overs, going off the side of the road and tipping on our sides, and hitting strong inanimate objects like trees. Perhaps the most dangerous place to be however is an intersection. Controlled (traffic lights) intersections are better than most. At lease we have a shot and don’t have to think too much. Red stop. Green go. Yellow, slow down and get ready to stop. It’s pretty easy. All the lights and sirens in the world mean little to the people driving in sound proof cars, stereo up, head phones on, ear pods in, ‘gotta get the kids to soccer practice,’ ‘gotta get to school,’ ‘gotta get to work.’ ‘I got the green, look out’I’m coming through!’ How many times have you come up behind a car with lights, siren, and air horn going and they have no idea you’re behind them? Now picture that you’re coming from the side road with no warning. Stop, look, and listen! In an uncontrolled intersection, do it twice!
Start preaching; ‘seatbelts, speed and intersections.’ Have your people repeat it. Write it down. Hang it up in the day room. Place it in your cabs. Talk about it. Live it. If you love your life and you love your family, live to love them!
Chief Kanterman’s blog can be found at http://www.fireengineering.com/blogs/blognetwork/ron-kanterman.html