Safe Driving Commences Before Apparatus Rolls
The Volunteers Corner
In many areas, responding to alarms is more dangerous than fighting fires when fatality statistics are compared. We sometimes overlook the fact that getting apparatus to the fireground quickly means nothing unless the equipment and men reach the fire safely.
It has been wisely said that the time to save response seconds is before you leave the station. Once under way, drivers should let road conditions limit speed and remember that accidents don’t put out fires. A fireman’s first duty is to save lives—not endanger them.
Response safety starts right in the firehouse. Before the apparatus moves, the officer should look back to make certain every man has a handhold or is seated. Only after he is satisfied that everyone is safely aboard should the officer order the driver to roll. In volunteer companies, sometimes there is no officer on the truck. In this case, the man sitting on the right hand side of the cab must assume the officer’s responsibility.
I have known cases where failure to look toward the rear step has resulted in the apparatus moving out just as a man was reaching for the grab rail. In a couple of instances, men were dumped on the floor. In another case, a fireman’s arm was torn by a roof ladder hook as he was trying to hit the rear step.
Know the route: It may seem obvious, but it’s good idea for the driver and officer to agree on the route before leaving. In the haste of responding, there can he a mixup over whether the alarm is for Buttercup Lane or Buttercup Terrace. The two streets may be a good distance apart, and the frustration of turning around and backtracking can create driver-anxiety that causes accidents.
Once under way, warning lights should be flashing and the siren operating. In many states, an emergency vehicle is legally not an emergency vehicle unless warning lights are flashing and a sounding device distinct from ordinary horns is used. The fact that there may be little or no traffic at 3 o’clock in the morning is no excuse for running without a siren. It takes only one foggy or groggy motorist floating into an intersection or out of a hidden driveway to cause a tragedy because he “didn’t hear any siren.”
Danger zone: Intersections are particularly dangerous for fire apparatus. The driver has to be alert not only for ordinary traffic, but also for other emergency vehicles approaching on the cross street. Don’t feel safe because all fire trucks are responding from the same station. A police car also may be on its way to the fire. Unfortunately, sirens sometimes have the effect of canceling themselves so that the operator of one emergency vehicle can not distinguish the siren of another.
When entering an intersection, it is good practice, even with a green light, to have your foot off the accelerator and over the brake pedal. The decrease in speed and the time saved in hitting the brakes will be in your favor in an emergency. Some department rules call for apparatus to stop for a red light and then proceed only when it is certain that it is safe to do so. Even if your department rules do not call for a complete stop, you should go through a red light only when you can see that the green light traffic is yielding to you. In every case, you should be prepared for an instant stop.
When cars are piled up in front of you for a red light, use great caution in turning into the left-hand lanes. This should be done slowly so that you can stop for any autos turning into those lanes at the intersection.
Bell is effective: Sounding the bell in addition to the siren is often an effective attention-getter.
When two or more fire trucks are traveling in line, they should keep far enough apart to eliminate the possibility of a rear-end collision. On the other hand, if they are too far apart, motorists at an intersection may enter the path of a following fire truck because the siren of the second truck was confused with that of the first apparatus.
Then there is the driver on a narrow road who does not hear you until you are only a short distance behind him. Instead of easing up on the gas and pulling over to the side of the road to stop, he may stay in his lane and jam on his brakes. Be prepared for this surprise by keeping plenty of braking distance behind a motorist until he indicates he is going to let you pass.
Don’t pass on the right if it can be avoided, and if it is necessary, make certain that the drivers ahead are aware of your intentions. And pass slowly.
Drive near center: It is best to drive near the center of the road, where you can observe traffic better. This position also gives you more “sea room” for maneuvering if the unexpected happens. At the same time, you should strive to have space on the right to swing into if necessary.
On some suburban and rural roads, it is advisable to keep near the center of the road to avoid branches that may be low enough to hit men on the rear step—or on the sides of the ladder trucks. No men, of course, should ride the sides of a pumper.
Also, no apparatus should pass another unless ordered to do so by the officer on the truck ahead.