Apparatus & Equipment, Firefighting, Health & Safety

When Will The Fire Chief Say Enough?

By John M. Buckman

I would hope that most of you read the LODD reports distributed electronically by the United States Fire Administration (USFA). The reason I want you to read these reports is so you will get mad and start making sure that “those accidents” don’t injure or kill you.

Gordon Graham states in his risk management seminars, “If it is predictable, it is preventable.” A couple of years ago, when I first heard the statement, I realized that so many of our accidents/incidents that occur, whether they result in death or injury, are predictable and subsequently preventable.

I recently saw a billboard on the highway that stated, “Increased seatbelt enforcement begins May 18.” The message was sponsored by the state police organization. I thought, “WOW they are giving the public two months notice.” The law in the state already required the public to buckle up if you are riding in a car but not if you ride in an SUV, but that is another story. I really don’t think that a law should be offered that would require firefighters who are riding in seated positions on fire apparatus TO BE BUCKLED IN BEFORE THE APPARATUS MOVES.

Chiefs, serve notice – to all fire department personnel who are under your authority – while riding in fire apparatus, ambulances, rescue squads, etc. ALL PERSONNEL WILL BE BUCKLED IN BEFORE THE APPARATUS MOVES.

Chiefs, I am sure there will be resistance. I am sure you will hear multiple reasons why you can’t expect firefighters to be buckled in during emergency response and some of those reasons will almost make sense. But the facts are on your side, Chiefs. Firefighters who are buckled in are less likely to be injured and/or killed in a motor vehicle accident. The alternative is to conduct a firefighter funeral or visit that a firefighter in the hospital after you visit the spouse and/or pick up their child and tell them that their spouse/parent is in the hospital when you know in your gut that you had the power to reduce their chance of injury. Increased seatbelt enforcement starts today in each and every fire department across this country.

It just makes sense: “If it is predictable, it is preventable.”

Chiefs, I am sure that some of you still aren’t convinced that you want to take on this battle. I remind you that it was just a short 20 years ago that we realized firefighters who enter burning structures should not be breathing the smoke these new fires were putting out. In 20 short years the fire service has come to embrace the SCBA as a necessary tool, and realize that it saves lives if we just take SCBA out of the case. It’s the same today – just take the seatbelt from behind your back and put it together.

John M. Buckman is chief of the German Township (IN) Volunteer Fire Department in Evansville, Indiana, where he has served for 22 years, and the immediate past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He was instrumental in forming the IAFC’s Volunteer Chief Officers Section and is past chairman. He is an adjunct faculty member in the National Fire Academy residence program, is an advisory board member of Fire Engineering, and lectures extensively on fire service-related topics.