Editor’s Opinion: If I Tell You, Will You Listen?

Editor’s Opinion | c

The end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 have not been kind to the fire service. Multiple rollovers and crashes have occurred already. One West Virginia crash resulted in a line-of-duty death, and one Texas firefighter was killed while working at a crash.

Responding to, operating at, and returning from calls continue to be some of the most dangerous parts of our responses. My former chief used to always tell us that he thought the most dangerous part of a fire call was backing the truck into the firehouse—and he’s not wrong. As a driver and an officer, I’ve had to deal with impatient drivers deciding that to wait for the truck to back into the station is just too much for them do to, what with their very busy and important lives. Sometimes they won’t even wait for firefighters to get out of the truck before trying to pass the rig. Most of our drivers now block the roadway so no one could pass if they wanted to. But, we all know that where there’s a will there’s a way, and drivers will try to squeeze through. And, they aren’t just trying to get around fire trucks.

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The week of Thanksgiving, I was responding to a call. I left my house, made the same right-hand turn I’ve made hundreds of times, went through the same intersection, and finally began to make my right-hand turn into the firehouse—a turn I’ve made thousands of times. We talk about muscle memory when it comes to training. Well, after 26 years, it’s pretty much muscle memory to put my right turn signal on and begin my turn into the firehouse parking lot. I guess my slowing down was too much for the fellow behind me, because as I was slowing down to turn into the parking lot, he was starting to pass me on the right. You can guess how it turned out. There were no injuries, and I was deemed to not be at fault. Was it distraction, or was it impatience? I think there’s a fine line between the two.

As you’ll see in this month’s “News” section, Pierce has partnered with HAAS Alert to include its collision avoidance technology on all custom rigs manufactured in Appleton, Wisconsin, for domestic and Canadian customers. Since launching two years ago, the HAAS Safety Cloud has delivered more than 100 million driver alerts. That is an incredible number. As more fire departments embrace this technology, the number of emergency vehicles alerting drivers will continue to increase, hopefully leading to increased awareness as drivers approach emergency scenes.

The fire service has come up with a variety of ways to reduce injuries and deaths while responding to and operating at emergencies. We are working to address how we position apparatus on roadways, the lights we use, to mount equipment necessary for extrications on the curb side of the rig, and have even arranged the pump panel to be on the curb side. Impromptu studies have drawn conclusions about the brightness of the lights, but we still lack an in-depth study on driver behavior that we can use to develop solutions. It’s only when we know the root of the problem that we can truly identify solutions to employ. We’re not going to eradicate all distracted driving. But, maybe through systems that alert the drivers while they are distracted, we can at least begin to address it.

Or, is it impatience? I surmise that even if an approaching vehicle is alerted that a fire truck is up ahead preparing to back into its station, the impatient driver might stop for a second or slow down to almost a stop. But, as soon as the rig stops, that two or three seconds is the opening. The “Why are they taking so long to back up?” mindset arrives, and the two- or three-second opening becomes the opportunity to be on their way. Maybe they clip the firefighter walking around the back of the apparatus to stop traffic. Maybe they get clipped by the fire truck starting to move back.

And, wouldn’t it be great on the volunteer side if when the tones drop that a message is sent out via mobile navigation apps that the whistle has blown and firefighters will be responding to the station? More importantly, will drivers pay attention, or will they try to beat the firefighters to the firehouse so they can keep moving toward their destination? Time will tell.

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