Technology Can’t Replace Common Sense

I don’t get preventable apparatus traffic accidents. Furthermore, I don’t get line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) resulting from apparatus traffic accidents. I’m not talking about personal vehicle responses. I’m talking about red-lights-on, siren-blaring, pulling-the-air-horn-chain, turning-on-the-electric-siren fire calls. I don’t get why we have these accidents. We drive the most sophisticated vehicles available in many cases. We can have all the electronic stability controls available to keep the truck upright. We can have all sorts of traffic intercepting devices on the trucks to change all the lights to green.

But, I’ve got news for you-if we could hit a button to change every light to green on our expected route of travel, it wouldn’t stop these preventable accidents from occurring. And, in some cases, LODDs would still result from them. All these secondary devices don’t replace the common sense of the apparatus operator controlling the speed of the apparatus and the officer sitting on the other side of the cab hitting the siren and honking the horn.

Remember, I’m talking about preventable accidents. There are accidents where, tragically, circumstances are beyond our control. But there are many, many preventable accidents occurring all the time if the operator would just ease up on the accelerator.

I’ve been there-the officer winds up the “Q,” which is on my side of the bumper, which gets the adrenalin going. I’ve “punched it” just a little more because of that little extra nudge the urgency of the “Q” provides. I know where the straightaways are to open it up a little bit.

I’ve had drivers, as we’re returning to the station, complain that the interceptor didn’t work at a particular intersection. So what? Who cares about interceptors? We should be stopping at traffic signals-not red lights or yellow lights, but traffic signals-no matter the color of the light.

Most of us have had close calls. I was taken aside once at a call and told by my deputy chief at the time, “Let me tell you a little something about driving an emergency vehicle. When you come to a traffic light, you stop.” That’s all it took. At this particular incident, I had control of the vehicle. I still contend that to this day. But, operators need to remember what it feels like on the other side of the truck. It doesn’t always look like you have the control you say you do.

Electronic stability control (ESC)-awesome idea. I activated it once by accident on a curve I had driven apparatus through hundreds of times. I was driving our newest engine, equipped with ESC, at emergency speed for the first time on that curve. It’s a great feature to have if you can afford it. And, give it some thought, because you never know if it will be part of the safety requirements of any emergency vehicle someday. Again, great idea. But would it be necessary if our operators just took it easy “on the gas”?

The bottom line to me, and hopefully others, is that preventable apparatus accidents are unacceptable, as are the LODDs that result from them. This is not to denigrate the individuals driving or those we’ve lost or their gallantry. However, to me it’s like training LODDs. There is no reason for them. They are just hands down unacceptable.

Early July day. Bright and sunny. We’re dispatched with our air unit to a reported dwelling fire. It’s a two-person truck, and I was in no rush to get to the firehouse because there are plenty of people who would be there before me. We all hung around after the air unit left and we received an additional dispatch for our rescue. I was the operator.

We responded, lights and sirens, and we approached an intersection I knew well. It’s an intersection that no matter what the call, I slow down to what the officer must feel like is a crawl. It is an intersection where drivers on my road have the right of way, but drivers crossing the intersection have stop signs on either side. This intersection had been the scene of a motor vehicle accident years before that involved a heavy truck and a compact car. The driver of the compact car perished at the scene. The truck driver was obeying all speed limits. Our rescue responded to this incident, so I know the intersection well.

As I slowed down to proceed through the intersection, for which I had the right of way, a civilian vehicle went right through one of the stop signs. I did everything I could to avoid the approaching vehicle. I firmly pumped the brakes, and I went as far to the right as I could. The officer yanked on the air horn chain and wound the “Q” up. The vehicle still ran into the driver’s side door of the truck. I rubbed a curb. Had I not already been going slowly, that easily could have become an apparatus rollover on top of a civilian vehicle requiring rescue and possible recovery.

Sometimes operators do all they can to prevent accidents, but the cards just are not in their favor and tragedies occur. But, driving with excessive speed, not stopping at traffic lights to ensure an intersection is clear before proceeding through, not driving according to the vehicle characteristics of what you’re operating, and not driving for the road or weather conditions you’re encountering can ultimately injure or kill firefighters as well as civilians. Officers must be strong enough to tell their drivers to slow down. All the technology in the world does not stop a civilian vehicle from creeping into an intersection.

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