Apparatus Operational Considerations, Part 3

By John W. Mittendorf

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

In a moving apparatus, a driver does not have time to see everything along the road or to think about what actions to take in a tight spot. An aid to enhancing driving skills is to use seven visual steps that let a driver read the traffic picture in one quick glance and correctly make automatic decisions. All drivers use some of the visual steps, but most drivers take so long on each step or are distracted that they often fail to finish all seven steps. Practice these steps until they are automatic.

1. Know your blind spots.
When sitting in the driver’s seat, be totally familiar with the areas around your apparatus that you can and cannot see. The knowledge of a specific apparatus allows a driver to anticipate blind areas that may be hiding objects (vehicles, personnel, etc.) that can contribute to accidents. Blind spots will dramatically change when the area around an apparatus is viewed from rear-view mirrors that are flat or equipped with bubble mirrors.

2. Look ahead.
When responding, how far do you look ahead? Your objective should be to set your eyes on where you will be, not where you are now. This translates into one to two blocks in the city and a quarter to a half-mile on highways. Always keep your eyes moving and not fixed on a central point. At night, watch beyond your headlights. If poor visibility forces you to look low to find your direction or keeps you from seeing beyond your headlights, the “look ahead” step will pull your speed down to a safe level. Additionally, you will have steering problems unless the driver’s seat lets you sit erect with your line of vision at least two inches above the steering wheel.

3. Get the total picture.
Moving your eyes up and down and side to side will help you to determine (or see) the total picture. In most municipalities, this picture is at least sidewalk to sidewalk and one to two blocks ahead. The total picture contains the following factors that effect your judgment and resultant actions:

  • Stationary and moving objects.
  • Warning devices (signals, stop signs, etc).
  • Ability to predict actions or events.

4. Constantly move your eyes.
This includes glancing near and far ahead, to the sides of the apparatus, and into the rear- view mirrors. This habit is restful to your eyes, develops the total picture, and keeps you alert.

5. Maximize your perimeter space.
A key consideration of emergency driving is to maximize the space around your vehicle and leave yourself an “out” at all times. Allowing space will help you to avoid an impending accident. Potential accidents are reduced by avoidance through maneuvering. This requires space–a place to maneuver to or in. Remember, with no maneuvering space, you need extra space to stop.

6. Leave sufficient following distance.
Whenever you are following other apparatus, consider the following factors that affect your total stopping distance:

  • Weight of apparatus.
  • Road conditions.
  • Perception/reaction time plus brake lag is 1.9 seconds under ideal conditions. At 30 mph, this equals more than 100 feet before your apparatus begins to stop.

    Allow enough distance between you and other apparatus to safely stop.

In Part 4, we will discuss the last step of visual awareness and one of the most important aspects of driving emergency apparatus: possible action by the “legal community.”

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).

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