National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Seat Belt Use

One of the first potential life-and-death decisions a firefighter/EMT makes is “to buckle or not to buckle.” This decision can change the individual’s life, the lives of the person’s family and the lives of all the members of the person’s organization. Wearing your seat belt in either a department or personal vehicle is such a simple decision and a safety measure that should be automatic. If emergency responders know the importance of wearing seat belts, then why is it that firefighters/EMTs lose their lives or get injured being tossed around or thrown from apparatus? As you read this firefighter near-miss report, think about what changes you or your organization have made in order to prevent a seat belt near-miss event from occurring.

“We were responding with lights and siren mutual aid to another county for an automatic alarm. I was riding as the officer. We were approaching an intersection approximately one mile from the station. The light was red in our direction. My driver noticed a car approaching from the north and began to slow the pumper by taking his foot off the accelerator. The car did not look like it was going to stop for us so he applied the brakes harder. I was donning my turnout coat and had not yet buckled my seat belt. When the driver hit the brakes, I had both arms in my coat and was pulling it up over my shoulders. The sudden deceleration of the pumper threw me head first into the windshield. I managed to turn my head at the last minute, but still struck the windshield with a significant force, causing me to see stars.”

The account talks about donning PPE while responding to an emergency incident and how this decision could have cost this particular officer his life. The adrenaline rush of the dispatch has a powerful influence on our decision making process. Our ability to control it will lead to sound safety practices like donning our PPE before getting on the apparatus. Once you have read the entire account of this report (, consider the following:

  1. Does your department have a mandatory seat belt use when vehicles are in motion regulation? If not, can you require everyone on the piece to wear seat belts?
  2. If you are a driver, what practices do you employ to ensure the members you are responsible for are safely seated and belted?
  3. If you are an officer, what steps do you take to ensure your crew is ready to be safely transported to the scene?
  4. If you take no steps to ensure your crew’s safety, have you prepared and practiced the remarks you will use to tell their survivors?
  5. If you take no steps to ensure your crew’s safety, do you know the legal implications?  

Make your first potential life safety decision a smart one. “To buckle or not to buckle” is a simple question with a simple answer: always choose to buckle. The lessons learned from this report will make a difference on your next response.

Have you had to implement a no tolerance policy for seat belt use or experienced a near-miss event? Submit your report to today to pass on your experience. You will never know who you may save. For more on the value of firefighter near-miss reporting, 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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