National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Apparatus Driving and Intersections

Multiple units responding to the same incident from different directions creates the potential for unscheduled arrivals at intersecting points. These points are most frequently intersections that are in one form or another controlled by devices ranging from stop signs to traffic lights. This week’s featured firefighter near-miss report¬†reminds us that a green light does not necessarily guarantee the way is safe to proceed.

[ ] Brackets denote reviewer de-identification.

“A municipal ALS equipped engine and a third service county ALS ambulance were dispatched by the same dispatch, on the same radio channel, to a local park for a trauma patient. While enroute, and less than two miles from our station, we approached a heavy traffic intersection, which is blind to the south side. Upon approach, the [brand deleted] signal preemption system (which both the engine and ambulance are equipped with) was delayed in capturing the light. The driver of the engine began to reduce speed and decelerate toward the intersection. As we approached the intersection we captured the light with the signal preemption system, giving us a GREEN light, but for whatever reason, the driver of the engine made a complete stop at the intersection. Just then the ambulance blew through the intersection, not stopping for the RED light. To our surprise, we didn’t hear or see this ambulance until they were in the intersection. Only because of the driver’s situational awareness and intuition (gut feeling) did we come to a complete stop to avoid a collision.”

Right of way rules, line of sight approaches, traffic light pre-emption devices and emergency response SOPs all support apparatus arriving at the scene of an emergency call. Despite all these efforts, human factor plays a role in the safe arrival of all units to their dispatched destination. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following with your colleagues.
  1. Many departments now have specific rules requiring units to stop at all red lights during emergency response. If your department has such rules in effect, are there any other recommendations for intersection travel to consider?
  2. The reporter states the driver’s “situational awareness and intuition” contributed to collision avoidance. How large of a role do you believe the two factors played? How do you promote/teach the effect of the “gut feeling” in your driver training sessions?
  3. How often do you encounter intersection situations with crossing emergency vehicle traffic? Given your estimate, what is your assessment of the likelihood of a collision based on the frequency?
  4. If your agency uses traffic pre-emptive signaling, how often is the system calibrated/fault-checked to ensure accuracy?
  5. How many “blind side” intersections exist in your response area? What is the significance of knowing where they are?
Emergency response ranges from high frequency, high risk to low frequency and high risk depending on how many calls for service a department receives. Reducing the risk associated, whether the frequency is high or low is an essential element of keeping our promise to the communities we serve. Doing your part by keeping your speed under control and being on the lookout for hazardous situations like intersections, will promote getting you to the scene quickly and returning for the next run.

Experience a near miss with another piece of apparatus while responding? Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com today. For more on the benefits of near-miss reporting for the fire service, CLICK HERE.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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