BY STEVEN M. DE LISI
As a driver of emergency apparatus, you have one of the most important jobs in the fire service. For no matter how capable your crew, they can’t accomplish anything if you don’t get them to the scene safely. A vehicle accident while responding to an emergency not only eliminates your ability to help others, but the remaining units must now respond to two emergencies—the original one and the one you may have helped to create. Furthermore, an accident that injures or kills or that damages or destroys apparatus can inflict a devastating financial and emotional toll on your department and community.
Driving emergency apparatus is just like driving any other large vehicle. The laws of physics that affect a 40,000-pound truck don’t change just because you add a light bar and sirens. Following are some tips that will help ensure that when driving to an emergency, you will stay part of the solution and not become part of the problem. That choice is yours!
- Drive as if your life and the lives of your fellow firefighters and the public depend on you because they really do.
- Always wear your seatbelt—correctly. Adjust the lap belt to fit low and tight across your hips/pelvis, not your stomach area. Place the shoulder belt snugly across your chest, away from your neck. Never place the shoulder belt behind your back or under your arm.1
- Going faster isn’t important; being able to stop is.
- Control your emotions; anger, fear, and excitement have no place behind the wheel.
- Be familiar with interior cab controls. Be able to adjust them without having to take your eyes off the road.
- Know your district—especially block numbers, street directions, and water supplies.
- Wait until the station bay door is up before you pull out.
- Know where you’re going before you leave the station.
- You must give vehicles in front of you a chance to get out of your way safely.
- Not all motorists will pull over and stop. Some may panic and stop right in front of you.
- Don’t approach a green light with your foot on the throttle. Instead, cover the brake pedal with your foot, and be prepared to stop.
- Don’t overdrive your visibility. Your stopping distance cannot exceed the distance you can see in front of you.
- Be prepared to stop when approaching a blind curve or cresting a hill. You never know what’s on the other side.
- Drive with a 360-degree view around you. Scan your mirrors every few seconds.
- Know your vehicle’s blind spots. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to confirm your clearance.
- Outside mirror adjustments should be snug but never tight. That way, if you should strike an object with a mirror, it most likely will just rotate in instead of break off.
- Keep vehicle windows and mirrors clean. You’ll be glad you did.
- The rear end of long apparatus, especially mid-ship aerials, tends to swing out wide during sharp turns. Be careful.
- On long, winding roads, a moderate and steady speed is safer than a continuous cycle of rapid acceleration and hard braking. And, it is also better for the vehicle.
- Know the height of your vehicles, especially those with deck guns, and the required clearance of overhead obstructions before you go under. If you’re not sure, get help.
- Snow and ice accumulations on road surfaces can reduce the available clearance for overhead obstructions.
- Avoid backing up without guides. Driving around the block may take a few more seconds, but it usually is safer.
- Take pride in your apparatus. Your unit’s condition and the way you drive it speak volumes about you and your department.
- Overconfidence can kill. Never get cocky, no matter how many years you’ve driven.
- If you get to the scene 30 seconds later—safely—no one will remember that you were late. But if you try to get to the scene 30 seconds sooner and kill somebody in the process, no one will ever forget!
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site: http:// www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/airbags/buckleplan/seatbelt805/police.html.
STEVEN M. DE LISI has been a hazardous materials officer with the Technological Hazards Division of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management since 1997. His responsibilities include directing initial state response to hazardous-materials emergencies in 16 counties and four cities located in metro Richmond and the surrounding region, as well as working with local government and state agencies in developing hazardous-materials emergency response programs. Previously, he had served for five years as a regional training manager for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs. Prior to that, he was employed for 10 years with the Newport News (VA) Fire Department; during that time, he served in various capacities including training officer, lieutenant, and as a member of the department’s hazardous-materials response team. He has an associate’s degree in police science, has a bachelor’s degree in governmental administration, and is pursuing a master’s degree in public safety leadership.