By John W. Mittendorf
Preparation for an emergency response begins long before the receipt of an alarm. Your knowledge of and the readiness of your apparatus, basic your driving skills, your familiarity with your district (appropriate response routes, water supply, target hazards, etc.) must be extensive to efficiently and safely operate apparatus in an emergency response.
After receiving an alarm, verify the location of the alarm and determine the best route to the incident (based on time of day, weather conditions, etc). As a regular or backup driver, you must be totally familiar with your district, streets, intersections, traffic patterns, and routes of responding apparatus from other companies. Take the necessary time to learn your district and consistently practice good defensive driving skills. Study your intersections and streets that offer the best routes of response as if you were prefire planning a structure. Give special attention to blind, uncontrolled intersections and changing traffic patterns. There is no substitute for experience and knowledge of your district.
Of equal importance, be thoroughly familiar with the general attitude/driving habits of the public that you will encounter, and consider how other drivers react to emergency apparatus during a response (at times you probably wonder if your emergency lights and siren are operating). Remember to exercise additional caution when driving in an unfamiliar district or with different apparatus. The time involved in getting to an incident is seldom reduced during the actual response. Time is primarily saved by the following two factors:
- Getting to your apparatus quickly.
- Knowing your district without having to study a map to determine response routes or incident location.
After you have verified the incident location and determined the best route to the incident, get into the driver’s seat, fasten your seat belt, and then start the engine.
Check the dash gauges (oil pressure first and air pressure second) and turn on emergency, head, and running lights. Verify that everyone is seated and buckled in safely. As you proceed out of quarters, check for vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Consider that you are not expected, so proceed cautiously. When it is clear and/or traffic has yielded, proceed on your response.
When responding, never drive over your head or faster than you can safely operate the vehicle. The old racing motto of “to finish first, you must first finish” is applicable when driving emergency and is translated as follows: “To fight fire and save lives, you must first get there.” Remember, speed is the largest single factor in total stopping distance. If speed is doubled, perception-reaction distance is doubled and braking distance is about four times as great.
DEFENSIVE DRIVER CONSIDERATIONS
The defensive driver makes allowances for personal deficiencies and for the lack of skill and knowledge on the part of the other driver and recognizes an inability to control the unpredictable actions of other drivers, pedestrians, or road and weather conditions. If necessary, the defensive driver will give up the right-of-way and make necessary concessions to avoid a collision. Expect the other driver to act in one of two ways–predictable or unpredictable. If another driver does the predictable, most accidents are prevented. However, a defensive driver will predict the unpredictable.
In Part 3, we will discuss visual awareness.
John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).