National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Defensive Driving

Approximately 2,500 pieces of fire apparatus are involved in collisions each year, according to http://www.truckaccidents.org/statistics. Each collision results in an average of 1,100 injuries and fatalities and are the second leading cause of firefighter fatalities. Postcollision investigations typically find that the majority of these collisions are preventable. They often find excessive speed and a lack of driver training as significant contributing factors. Given the collisions are preventable, emphasizing prevention measures are essential to reducing their frequent occurrence. The wreck that doesn't occur is the wreck that saves lives. This week's featured report relates one example of how paying attention to surroundings (high situational awareness) avoids tragedy.

"...dispatched to a possible structure fire. I was a newer firefighter who was driving the ladder truck for the shift. As I approached an intersection, the traffic light turned green, giving me the right of way. I took my foot off the brake and applied it to the accelerator. As I started to enter the intersection, I realized that a vehicle that should have been stopping for a red light was not stopping. I hit the brakes and stopped the truck a few feet into the intersection. The car ran the red light and just barely missed us."

When responding to incidents, lights and sirens rank as one of the riskiest actions fire departments engage in. This statement is based on thirty years of NFPA statistics that cite a downward trend in firefighter fatalities at the fireground; while fatalities from vehicle incidents remain static. There are patterns emerging across the country where fire departments are reducing the number of "emergency responses" such as EMS systems and realizing reductions in property damage, injuries, litigation and lost equipment, while not experiencing an increase in civilian property loss. Obviously, preventing collisions is the way to save lives. But if other prevention measures fail, the use of seatbelts is critical to saving lives. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. How many of your emergency responses within the past six months (emergency lights and audible warning devices) have been "true emergencies" (life hanging in the balance, community threatened, etc.) when you arrived?
2. What is the liability limit on the personal injury rider for your personal vehicle insurance policy?
3. NIOSH recommends that "apparatus operators and drivers of fire department vehicles receive initial driver training, including classroom and practical, on every vehicle and apparatus. They will be required to operate at a refresher training at least twice annually thereafter." How does your department driver training program stack up to this recommendation?
4. Consider your last intersection near miss. What would have been the outcome of the call had the near miss resulted in a  collision that prevented you from getting to the scene?
6. When was your last driver training evaluation?

Have you experienced a near miss at an intersection? Tell your story on www.firefighternearmiss.com to get another crew from station to scene and back again in one piece.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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