Safe Operation of Emergency Vehicles

Safe Operation of Emergency Vehicles

Byline: Chris Cavette

In the last 10 years, more than 225 firefighters died in vehicle accidents while on duty. The really tragic thing is that many of these accidents can be prevented. Departments need to institute and enforce some simple practices to ensure the safe operation of emergency vehicles.

Here are five things you can do to help reduce vehicle-related injuries and deaths:

* Use your seatbelts

It’s hard to believe that seatbelts have been around for almost 50 years, and yet many people still refuse to use them. Seatbelts may not prevent accidents, but they do save lives. Every seat should have a seatbelt, and every person riding in an apparatus should use one. Failure to do so should result in disciplinary action. Crews should practice by timing how long it takes to enter the cab in full turnout gear and fasten their seatbelts. They should then identify any problems and work toward improving the time. The wheels shouldn’t roll unless everyone’s seatbelt is fastened.

* Ride inside

Apparatus built before 1991 weren’t required to have fully enclosed cabs. Some had semi-enclosed canopy cabs, while others had two-door cabs with firefighters riding on the tailboard. There are a lot of these older apparatus still in service, and departments need to make some hard decisions about using them. Ideally, these apparatus should be upgraded or placed in reserve. If that isn’t possible, departments should establish a policy that everyone must ride inside the apparatus cab or in another fire department vehicle’s cab. This restriction also should prohibit firefighters from riding outside the cab on the body when fighting grass fires – a common, but extremely dangerous, practice.

* Train drivers

Some volunteer departments let the first person to arrive at the station be the driver. Other departments assign drivers to the first-due rigs, but let anyone else drive the support vehicles. Both are bad practices. Everyone who drives an emergency vehicle should be trained. At a minimum, they should have enough training to obtain and hold a valid driver’s license for the type and class of vehicle to be driven. In many states, tractor-trailers, tankers and vehicles with air brakes require special licenses or certifications.

* Restrict vehicle speed

Excessive speed by inexperienced, over-eager drivers is a common cause of emergency vehicle accidents. It’s especially deadly when operating tankers on rural roads. Some speed guidelines you might consider include prohibiting apparatus from traveling more than 10mph over the posted speed limit when responding to emergencies. If the apparatus are forced to travel in the opposing traffic lanes, the maximum speed should be 20mph. If they must proceed through an intersection against a stop sign or red light, they must come to a full stop first. And a maximum speed of 35mph for tankers is reasonable and would go a long way toward preventing roll-over accidents.

* Restrict alcohol use

Although departments can’t restrict alcohol use during off-duty hours, they can restrict its use within a reasonable period prior to reporting for duty. The International Association of Fire Chiefs has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for the consumption of alcohol. It specifically prohibits personnel from responding to emergencies if they have consumed alcohol within eight hours prior to a call or if they are still noticeably impaired. It further bans alcohol from the premises of any operational portion of the department. Your department should adopt a similar policy.

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