Roundtable Replies: Seat Belt Policy

This month’s Roundtable question was: Does your department have a mandatory seat belt policy? Is it enforced and who is responsible for its enforcement?  Does the officer have any culpability if a firefighter knowingly violates the policy and should he? Read Skip Coleman’s reply HERE.
 
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, New York City Fire Dept.
Response: The FDNY mandates seat belt use on all department vehicles. Tight cab conditions, bulky protective gear, awkward belt mechanisms, and an inappropriate mind set are all obstacles to full compliance.
 
Our officers are responsible for enforcing all of our safety standards. However, I don’t think you can effectively “legislate” safety. A safe attitude must come from each individual. A firefighter who chooses not to use a seat belt is making the same type of decision as one who chooses to continue smoking or who fails to use his SCBA in a questionable atmosphere.
 
An effective company officer can and should exert his authority to ensure a safe response whether that involves controlling the apparatus driver or checking on seat belt use. But I think it’s time to stop depending on procedures, systems, or bureaucracy and highlight the responsibility an individual has in maintaining his safety.
 
Refusing to wear a seat belt is an individual decision and ultimately that individual must accept responsibility for the unnecessary danger he is subjecting himself to. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect any organization to protect you when you refuse to protect yourself.
           
Dawn Cooper, paramedic/registered nurse, Santa Ana (CA) Fire
Response: We have a mandatory seat belt policy but no one has ever been reprimanded for not wearing it, even when involved in a T/c. However, after a bad accident the seat belt policy always comes up for everyone to review. However, it is next to impossible to wear a seat belt in the patient compartment of our transport units when treating a patient, especially a trauma or critically ill patient. but we haven't had any accidents that resulted in any injuries transporting patient yet. At least not in my last 28 years here.
 
 
David Ackroyd, senior station officer, Hutt Valley Fire Police Unit, Upper Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand
Response: Yes, the New Zealand Fire Service has a compulsory wearing of Selt Belt Policy which is enforced. Under New Zealand law it is the Drivers responsibility to ensure that all passengers (front and rear) have their seat belts correctly fastened before moving off.. Under New Zealand Fire Service (NZFS) regulations it is the Officer In Charges (OIC) responsibility to ensure that all personnel in the truck have there seat belt fastened prior to the driver moving off.
 
The NZFS has printed signs which are stuck to the inside of the Officers Window reminding the OIC to check all seat belts are fastened before allowing the driver to move off.
 
Michael Williams, training officer, Alameda City (CA) Fire Department
Response: In my department, we have had a seat belt policy since 1986 and it goes as far as requiring seat belts while operating your personal vehicle while on duty. Since then the policy has been wrapped into a comprehensive vehicle operation policy using the resources available through the IAFF, IAFC and FEMA. The policy not only requires everyone to wear a seat belt, but it also requires the drivers to drive with due regard both on emergency and non-emergency responses.
 
Per the policy, the company officer is accountable for the actions of his or her assigned crew members and the shift commanders hold the company officers accountable. For the most part the policy is followed and we haven’t had to formally discipline members due to a seat belt violation.
 
John Morel, division chief, Decatur Township Fire Department, Indianapolis, Indiana 
Response: My department does have a mandatory seat belt policy in place that is enforced by the company officer of the rig.

I hope it is truly enforced all of the time. Within our policy we have established that the seat belt must be in place before the vehicle is in motion and the belt is not to come off until arrival at the scene. This means that our personnel can not be up moving around donning PPE while the apparatus is moving. When this revision went into place in 2009 (because the prior policy didn't have enough meat to it) we conducted department wide training on this policy and showed the "Denver Seat Belt Video" as a way to show our firefighters that it is possible to finishing getting their PPE and SCBA on while securely belted in and to practice the techniques outlined in the video. Our company officers are responsible for the personnel on their rig and therefore we hold them responsible to enforce the policy to the letter. 

If found in violation of the policy, both the firefighter and the company officer are subject to disciplinary action based on department policies and procedures. 

 

Dave Peterson, chief, Plainfield (MI) Fire Department
Response: There are four violations of the FD work rules that could result in an automatic suspension: failure to wear your seat belt, failure to stop at a controlled intersection where you do not have the right of way, failure to use a spotter when backing, and failure of the IC to do a 360o size-up at an incident scene. The officer or senior person on scene or in the apparatus is responsible for enforcing these rules. They are enforced. The extent of the enforcement would depend on the circumstances. A suspension would definitely be appropriate for failure to wear a seat belt. Our job is dangerous enough without our neglecting to follow proven lifesaving rules.

 

Steve Shafer, captain, Medford (OR) Fire Rescue
Response: We have a mandatory seat belt policy that is the Captain's responsibility to ensure is enforced. Our three newest engines also have warning beepers and lights if someone isn't belted in. I believe compliance is about 99% with the 1% being donning gear while en route to structure fires. I won't argue that you can't don gear while belted in but it certainly makes it more difficult at a time when there are a bunch of things demanding attention. Administrators and supervisors are interested in compliance not logistics, I'm concerned with both.

 

Ed Elliott, chief, Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department
Response: The grace period for firefighters not wearing seat belts is over! The grace period for fire chiefs not having a departmental policy AND enforcing it is over! Our policy dictates that ALL personnel on board must have seat belts on before the vehicle is permitted to move. Non-compliance with this policy is classified as a "Group III Offense" [most serious] of "Violating safety rules where there is a threat of bodily harm." and carries corrective action of up to, and including, termination of employment. The policy states that any violation will result in disciplinary action for the person not wearing the seat belt, the driver of the vehicle AND the officer-in-charge. This is 2011. All firefighters' excuses for not wearing seat belts have long been diffused. The term "Everyone Goes Home" and non-use of seat belts cannot co-exist in the same department. They are incompatible philosophies.
 
For the last four years one of the questions on the promotional interview has been, "Do you ever ride, or allow others to ride, in a fire department vehicle without the use of seat belts?" Obviously, the stakes are very high for presenting the wrong answer to an otherwise easy problem!
 
Sometimes the question should not be "How safe?" but "How serious?" Thank you for the opportunity to further support a great cause for firefighter safety.

 

Doug Gage, captain, Brampton Fire, Brampton, Ontario, Canada
Response: We do have a seat belt policy that all personnel are to be belted when the vehicle is moving. It’s up to the captain to enforce the policy and we are to announce “All belted” over the radio. But in reality this rarely happens as I have no way of knowing if the firefighters are belted. I can ask but they may say they are belted when they are not. Some of the newer trucks do have a seat belt buzzer that goes off when a seat belt is unbuckled but it often gets disabled.

Even though I’ve been wearing a seat belt for most of my 26 year career, I still don’t use it 100 percent of the time because it is awkward to use in the truck. I find with the SCBA, portable radio, headphones, etc. That I am usually getting something caught up in the seat belt. In fact one the of the major problems is getting your SCBA caught in the seat belt while exiting the vehicle!

I feel we will never have 100 percent compliance until the truck and SCBA manufacturers get together to solve these problems.

 

Glenn Jennings, operations officer/state driving coordinator, Country Fire Authority (CFA), Victoria, Australia
Response: The CFA in Victoria has a policy that requires all drivers and passengers in appliances to wear seat belts at all times unless exempted under state law or directly involved in firefighting operations. As a State that is recognized as one the most wildfire prone areas in the world, a major part of our operations involves firefighters standing on the deck component of a water tanker directly fighting the fire. We experience many large grass fires where this type of attack in standard practice. Only under these circumstances are firefighters exempt from wearing their seat belts. The driver has a legal responsibility under state law to ensure that all occupants in the vehicle wear seat belts and our SOPs requires drivers and crew leaders to reinforce this practice. Following a death of a Volunteer Captain several years ago, CFA undertook a major awareness campaign featuring a video and this has resulted in greater wearing compliance. Seat belts DO save lives and for a firefighter to die by not wearing one is inexcusable.

 

Peter Ensor, chief, Hinton Fire Rescue, Hinton, Alberta Canada
Response: I am a volunteer Paid On Call hall and, yes, we have a seat belt policy
4.1. Seat Belts
A.                Personnel shall wear seat belts prior to the apparatus responding, and during the entire response. Seat belts are to be worn even if SCBA is being donned during the response.
B.                 Seat belts may be removed after the apparatus comes to a complete stop
 
The right front seat (officer) is responsible but so far no culpability has been attached. On the inside of the apparatus bay doors in front of the officers seat on the rig is a sign SEAT BELTED?, Further all entrances to the apparatus bays have the sign “Seat belts are not as restrictive as wheel chairs, put them on”

 

Mike Kuryla, chief, Hillside (IL) Fire Department
Response:: We have had a written policy for years regarding seat belts. Besides that, I speak one on one with every new firefighter and tell them if they are ever injured/disabled from not wearing a seat belt, I would do all in my power to have a pension denied. Illinois has pushed the 16 Life Safety Initiatives through the Illinois Fire Chief’s Association for a few years now and many departments in Illinois, including mine have signed the “seat belt pledge”. How many close calls reports do we need to see when so many shows injuries or death from non-seat belt use?

 

James L. Larsen, deputy chief, Glenside Fire Protection District, Glendale Heights, Illinois
Response: The Glenside Fire Protection District does in fact have a mandatory seat belt policy and has signed the International First Responder Seat belt Pledge. Personal responsibility comes into play when we talk about enforcement, however, in the absence of personal responsibility we hold the Company Officer AND Engineer responsible for enforcement. The engineer cannot place the rig into motion without first checking (verbally) with all members and it is the officer’s responsibility to visually check for compliance prior to movement of the apparatus. Officers absolutely must be held responsible…set the expectation and then hold the members accountable so everyone goes home.

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