Apparatus Operational Considerations, Part 4

By John W. Mittendorf

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In Part 3, we covered six steps of visual awareness. In this final article, let’s consider the seventh step in addition to a few potential legal considerations.

7. Make sure they know your intended actions.
Never assume other drivers know what you will do, and don’t count on traffic laws to help you. You must communicate with other drivers and pedestrians to ensure they know your intended actions. This can be accomplished using the following:

  • Eye contact.
  • Warning lights, siren, and horn.
  • Turn indicators and hand signals.
  • Apparatus positioning.
  • Speed of apparatus.

Legal Considerations
Let’s suppose you are a member of your department’s administrative staff, and one of your apparatus drivers is involved in an accident that results in legal action against your department (which is highly probable in today’s society). You can anticipate the victim’s attorney will ask at least the following two questions:

  • How do you certify your drivers, and how current is their certification?
  • Can you make available your training records?

    If these questions make you feel a little uneasy, you should reevaluate your department’s method of certifying drivers of emergency apparatus, as once you are asked to defend the competence of your drivers, it is now too late to make appropriate changes.

I will never forget the day a member of the California Department of Motor Vehicles called my department (unannounced) and wanted to make an appointment to discuss our driver training program. Luckily, we had just finished revamping our driver training/certification program and were prepared to justify its relevance. This subject deserves your careful consideration for two basic reasons:

  • Being able to mitigate potential legal action.
  • The lack of training (driving heavy apparatus) by the influx of new firefighters, many of whom cannot drive a standard shift vehicle and have no clue what a clutch is for.

Let me ask you the following questions:

  • How do you certify new firefighters?
  • Once they are certified, how often is the certification renewed?
  • If a driver is involved in an accident, is any training/discipline involved?

As an example, the following is an overview of the driver training program used by the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department:

  • New firefighters are slowly given the opportunity to drive fire apparatus under the guidance of their company officer. When the company officer feels the firefighter is ready to be certified, the firefighter has to successfully complete the following:
    • A written exam on the California Vehicle Code.
    • A driving “rodeo.”
    • A drive with a department driving instructor.

Once these steps are successfully completed, the candidate can go to the California DMV and take a written exam for a class 2/B license. The LAFD provides the written certification for the practical experience.

  • For apparatus operators who are currently certified, they must ANNUALLY pass the following criteria:
    • A written exam on the California Vehicle Code.
    • A driving “rodeo.”
    • A drive with a department driving instructor.
    • Operate the pump/aerial device.
  • If a driver is involved in an accident, a hearing is conducted to determine the facts. If the fire apparatus was at fault, or the accident could have been avoided, the driver is trained/disciplined. This may consist of giving a drill on proper driving rules, writing a lesson plan on a driving subject, or maybe time off (depending on the severity of the accident).

Does this program seem too complicated or severe? Society and drivers of today have changed. It’s your call.

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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