Seat Belt Policies

QUESTION: Does your department have a written seat belt policy? Who is responsible for enforcing it? How can we get firefighters to wear seat belts?

OUR DEPARTMENT’S SEAT belt policy simply states (and I paraphrase) that all members shall wear a seat belt if the vehicle is moving. Failure to do so is a safety violation with a pretty stiff penalty. It is the individual’s responsibility to wear a seat belt. If the officer is aware (“on notice”-that’s a legal term for the lawsuit when it comes, and it will come!), he is responsible as well. In some states, the driver of the apparatus is also responsible. Some officers and drivers ask before pulling out of the door. Others don’t! Some get stung! Some don’t! Not everyone dies playing Russian roulette.

-John “Skip” Coleman, assistant chief, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,
Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: Our policy requires the use of safety belts at all times when the apparatus is in motion. Our members follow the policy; enforcement does not seem to be a problem. The policy is based on the State of Washington Administrative Code (WAC 296-305-04503), which requires all persons riding on fire apparatus to be seated and secured by seat belts anytime the vehicle is in motion.

Our “old school” or litigious environment requires someone be responsible for enforcing this policy. This implies having a Theory X “watchdog” manager who carries a big stick lay down the law, watch like a hawk, threaten the firefighters with a big stick, and hit them if they don’t wear their seat belt. This is not a good leadership practice and hasn’t been effective; otherwise, the fire service wouldn’t be addressing this issue, again, today.

Firefighters need to wear seat belts. It’s unfortunate that some choose not to or forget to wear them. I hope we can overcome this hurdle by continuing to educate our firefighters. We can, and do, learn from the mistakes of other firefighters. Current philosophies and programs such as Everyone Goes Home and Near-Miss Reporting are progressive methods for this message. Our “Buddy System” begins as we get in the cab of the apparatus. Let’s check ourselves, and then our buddy. Let’s look out for each other to keep each other safe and out of trouble.

Mike Mason, lieutenant,
Downers Grove (IL) Fire Department

Response: Our departmental policy is simple and direct: “Wear your seat belt when the vehicle is in motion.” No excuses. Unfortunately, the progression to safe fireground behaviors is not always the case; other factors influence unsafe behaviors relating to seat belt usage. Policies sometimes provoke these unsafe behaviors, especially in the area related to the life-saving application of securing yourself to your seat when the vehicle is racing toward the call for help. The key word here is racing; racing to responses doesn’t apply just to the speed of the apparatus. It also applies to our being ready to dismount from the rig ready to go to work fully dressed.

Many departments establish rules and regulations that direct responders to arrive at an emergency in the community within four to six minutes. This is obviously dramatically increased in rural communities. Many departments should replace the number of minutes with the words “Timely Response” to guarantee the safe behaviors regarding the use of seat belts.

In most fire apparatus, there is little room to just sit in a seat, let alone wear all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and the SCBA while applying your seat belt before the vehicle moves out the door. Despite the restricted area, we find that we are restrained or entangled by something when we arrive on-scene and begin to dismount the apparatus.

Poor design features sometimes make it necessary for firefighters to undo and redo seat-belt applications. What’s even worse is to find that you can’t engage the seat belt while wearing your gear.

We need only to take a hard, honest look at our driving habits and the line-of-duty deaths and injuries to recognize that it’s time for a change. That change should begin with policy, followed by training to ensure that all adhere to the policy. We should secure ourselves every time we go out the door when using lights and sirens. When fire apparatus are found lying on their side, it’s because the driver of that rig was trying to avoid hitting the approaching vehicle and anything else that could contribute to a larger loss of life in the area. Trying to steer 37,000 pounds or more quickly usually has only one end result-our big rig’s losing its center of gravity and landing in a final resting position no one anticipated.

We have to change our thinking regarding the use of seat belts. This involves administrators, manufacturers, policies, procedures, and training. Manufacturers can enhance seat belt usage through better design features. Those that mount SCBAs in seats for quick donning along with rip cords of one type or another to release them may address the need for speed but also create entanglement problems and make it hard to maneuver, reach, or operate in our PPE. Maybe we should be donning SCBAs at the fire scene instead of compromising our safe arrival for the sake for speed. We might have the ability to catch our breaths and read a good size-up before racing in. We’ve spent countless hours training for emergencies, yet we take risks before we get out the door and while en route to emergencies.

Consistently using seat belts depends on training and policies that work with the equipment and apparatus we use. We must keep the driving speed down. Leaders must diligently keep members aware of the risks and impress on officers and firefighters that it is their duty to act when other members fail to use their seat belts.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: The use of seat belts is required on department vehicles. Company officers are expected to enforce the policy; individual firefighters are held responsible for compliance.

There are, unfortunately, a number of obstacles that must be overcome to get everyone to use the belts. Tight quarters on some newer apparatus can make it awkward to fasten a seat belt while wearing bunker gear. The size of a fire apparatus may also create an illusion of “safety” to some personnel. In addition, bad habits or traditions are difficult to break.

Firefighters have to be trained early in their careers to get into the habit of buckling up despite the excitement and distractions encountered on an emergency response. Statistics probably won’t mean much to a recruit school audience, but vivid photographs of apparatus accidents or talks by survivors of serious traffic incidents may leave an impression. As personnel are promoted and trained for the company officer rank, seat belt use should be reemphasized as an important factor in keeping their crews safe. The development of restraining devices ergonomically designed for people wearing bulky, restrictive bunker gear would also go a long way toward ensuring seat belt compliance.

The National Safety Council tells us there is a vehicle fatality in this country every 12 minutes. And, according to the United States Fire Administration, an average of 25 percent of firefighter fatalities occur while responding to or returning from the emergency scene. There are factors the fire service can’t control, and some inherent risks must be faced in our line of work. Refusing to take a few seconds to attach a seat belt is certainly not one of them.

Craig H. Shelley,
fire protection advisor

Response: Our department operates under a corporate vehicle safety policy as well as fire department standard operating procedures (SOPs) regarding vehicle safety. Both policies require vehicle operators and those riding in company vehicles to be properly seat-belted. Apparatus operators are directed through our SOP not to move the fire apparatus until they are sure the entire crew is properly attired in full protective clothing, seated, and securely belted in place.

Throughout my 40-year fire service career, I have seen many changes in our safety culture, all of them for the better. Unfortunately, most, if not all, of these changes have been the result of firefighter injuries and deaths. When I started in the fire service, if any seat belts were on the apparatus, they were either buried under the seat cushion or removed and used to hold equipment in place or to sling flashlights over our shoulders. How many firefighters have been killed or injured because they failed to use seat belts and their officers allowed them not to use seat belts? I remember stories of firefighters being thrown from the back step of apparatus. How many firefighters died until this practice was outlawed? Yet, we still read about firefighters falling from the back step of a moving apparatus.

Riding in an enclosed cab and buckling your seat belt are fundamental to preventing injuries and death. These principles should be taught from day one at recruit school along with the proper use of our PPE. Firefighters, drivers, and officers should be held accountable for their own failures to use seat belts as well as the failures of those riding alongside them.

Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: Our policy states: “All personnel in moving apparatus will be buckled in.” This means while riding in any fire apparatus, rescue squads, ambulances, sedans, and so on. How do we enforce it? Mostly, through the honor system.

All members realize the importance of preventing injuries and reducing line of duty-related injuries and fatalities. Our membership also realizes that Oregon state law requires everyone to buckle up when in a moving vehicle, which includes fire apparatus. In addition, our members are aware that if they were involved in an accident that resulted in an injury or a fatality, and they weren’t buckled in, their workers’ compensation benefits could be in jeopardy. So for us, the honor system is working.

In January 2005, we had a near-miss tragedy between one of our engine companies and a Tri-Met light rail train. This accident illustrated several key points in reference to en-route safety and reinforced the department’s seat belt policy:

1 This incident could have had a different outcome. So, remember all personnel in moving apparatus will be buckled in.

2 When approaching a blind intersection, take that extra precaution to ensure the safety of all. Even though the fire department had control of the traffic signal control device, we realize from this incident that the light rail train operator’s human error failed to recognize he was supposed to stop.

3 Let’s continue to stress safety on our side to ensure we never have an incident of this type again.

4 If it is predictable, it is preventable.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts: All personnel in moving apparatus will be buckled in.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: We have a policy in place. We are approximately 85 percent effective in having members wearing their seat belts. Although this percentage is not bad, it is not the 100 percent needed. All of us have heard the excuses from firefighters and officers for not wearing their seat belts. These excuses could take up an entire page and are not worth the paper on which they are written.

If a chief officer sees you without a seat belt on, you will hear about it; but our chiefs are not riding the engines, the company officers are. This is where the company officer comes in. It is the company officer’s job not only to follow the rules but also to set an example. Although all members are accountable, the company officer must be able to step up, take command, and ensure the safety and 100 percent compliance of the company.

We must educate our members on the importance of strict seat belt use while responding to and returning from an alarm. I would rather that my members take five seconds to buckle the waist strap on their SCBA on arrival at a scene than not be properly belted in while responding.

On January 3, 1979, one of our engine companies was involved in a serious accident while responding to a structure fire. All firefighters involved suffered minor injuries. I use this example because the firefighter trapped in the jumpseat that day was my captain when I was hired. He stressed the importance of seat belts from personal experience.

John O’Neal, chief,
Manassas Park (VA) Fire Department

Response: Our department has a written policy mandating the use of seat belts. The driver of the vehicle bears the full responsibility for complying with the content of the policy in the Emergency Vehicle Response and Operations procedure.

Company officers bear the responsibility for the safety and well-being of all crew members under their command, including wearing seat belts during response and nonemergency driving. Individuals are also responsible for their own safety and for adhering to all policies and procedures. This should serve as a check-and-balance system for compliance.

As the chief officer and leader for the department, I would like to think that compliance is at 100 percent; however, I suspect that it is not at times. And that responsibility is on me. It takes a culture shift and change for full compliance under all circumstances and an environment in which the leadership promotes a safe and healthful workplace. I believe we have that environment.

However, in a small organization that hires certified personnel who often come from other career organizations or volunteer departments, coupled with a relatively young workforce, we find ourselves modifying past learned behaviors for full compliance for our safety policies along with other administrative or operational policies. We seek this compliance by mandating that individuals follow SOPs, promoting safe practices in safety briefings, in-service training, and EVOC updates and reinforcing safe practices by participating in the annual safety stand-down. It takes a constant effort of training and reinforcement for 100-percent compliance because of the complacency of human nature-“It’ll never happen to me”-and the mindset of rushing to the scene of an emergency to help. However, the effort is worth the time spent, to protect our members and the public.

Bobby Shelton, firefighter,
Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our department has had a written seat belt policy for some time. It has always been the company officers’ responsibility to enforce it. In fact, part of our written procedure states that the apparatus is not to move until all members are seated and belted. One of our district chiefs is the department safety officer. He is very safety conscious. He responds to working fires to ensure safety compliance and investigates accidents involving apparatus within the department. He regularly sends out safety bulletins and case studies of incidents involving apparatus and personnel from around the country.

In late June while responding to a call, one of our engine companies was hit by a pickup truck that crossed the double yellow line. The engine company crew was seated and belted and was not injured. The driver of the civilian vehicle was critically injured. This incident really drives home the need for wearing seat belts.

I recently participated in a firefighter anthropometry study using 3D scanning and whole body measurements conducted by Total Contact Inc. in association with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The study’s goal is to help develop better safety and restraint systems for first responders. One of the questions posed to the volunteers was why they don’t use seat belts when it is a national law. Answers ranged from ill-fitting belts to not enough room to move while in bunker gear, and everything in between.

How many times do we respond to motor vehicle accidents and say that had the occupants been wearing safety belts they would have survived or been less seriously injured? More and more, we are hearing of accidents involving fire apparatus. The same question could be asked of us. Ultimately, it is not the job of the company officer or the safety officer to make sure we buckle up. It is the individual responder’s job. We do it in our personal vehicles; we make sure our families are belted in. What is the difference when we are at work? We owe it to ourselves and our families to be as safe as possible, and that includes the use of safety belts in our apparatus.

Richard Royston, chief,
Delhi Township (MI) Fire Department

Response: Our officers and personnel enforce our department’s policy. We believe that we have 100 percent compliance. Quite simply, the trucks don’t move unless the personnel are “down and buckled.”

Our written policy has been in place for about eight years. During that time, our department has preached, discussed, and preached again about seat belt use. As a result, the use of seat belts has become “peer-managed,” and members remind each other about using the seat belts.

I believe that the need for seat belts needs to be compared with the need for SCBA units and PASS alarm devices. The belts are there to save your life, as is the firefighting equipment. We wouldn’t think of going into a burning building without an SCBA, and we should not think about riding on a moving apparatus without a seat belt around us.

Bruce Peacock, chief,
County of Brant Fire, Paris,
Ontario, Canada

Response: Our department is of a fair size. The use of seat belts is law within our province but only for our public ambulances and fire; the police are excluded from the regulation. Many firefighters in the cities are ex-police officers and realize we face the same problems as the police.

We must move fast when we get to the fire. We have equipment to wear. It can be difficult to get the point across. If the police had some sort of system in their cars, it might take some of the problem away. The police (I was a member at one time) get into more accidents than any other emergency responders. A city like Toronto writes off one car a month because of accidents. Think what it would be like if the ambulance or fire department did that.

It is also hard for firefighters to realize that they can get hurt when riding in something as big and as heavy as a fire truck. They develop the attitude, “It can’t happen to me.”

When the chief and I are at the truck, the members fasten their seat belts, but the rest of the time, it is hit-and-miss even though it is law and our SOGs state it will be done. We maintain a lockdown on equipment on the truck, including the SCBA. The firefighters see that as being belted in if they have the SCBA on with the belts and the unit is locked.

Some things are hard to argue, and I have been in the back seat and can see where they are coming from, but I also know that the law is the law, even though it may be difficult to work with.

Firefighters are concerned about safety, but they look at this as how far do we go? We take chances going into burning buildings; they’re not made safer for us. Builders put homes together with lightweight construction and make our jobs more and more dangerous. Seat belts will save us “till we get to the fire.”

I think we need a system that would give us the safety yet not have us slow down with more belts. Is the SCBA lock system safe enough to be classified as a safety belt? Maybe that would reduce some of the problem, at least for the crew in the back, if they have it on.

Laws make it hard to do our job. We have some government offices that are working to make our fire departments more regulated than public companies when it comes to safety. It will end up killing the people we are trying to save.

David Murphy, captain,
Perkins Township (OH) Fire Department

Response: With traffic incidents fast approaching heart attacks as the number one killer of firefighters, our department has adopted a stringent seat belt policy. All personnel are required to be seat-belted at all times when riding in a department vehicle. The only exception is during the transportation of a patient. Personnel do not have to be seat-belted if they have to treat a patient.

This policy has been the cause of some concern when it comes to response to fire calls. It is the responsibility of the engineer and the officer not to move the vehicle until all firefighters are belted in. Now that apparatus have audible alarms when firefighters are in a seat and not belted, it is easy to know when the infraction occurs. However, several firefighters have voiced their concern that it is often difficult to don an SCBA while in a seat belt. A solution to this is not donning the SCBA until the apparatus arrives on-scene. This accomplishes two things. First, it gives the officer a few extra seconds to size up the incident; and as anyone who has sat in the right front seat knows, those few seconds can be precious. Second, it allows the firefighters to collect their thoughts and think about what their tasks are instead of trying to put on an SCBA in a moving vehicle.

The bottom line is, seat belts are no longer an option; they are a requirement. We cannot preach about safety and then allow our firefighters to risk their lives unnecessarily. Seat belts aren’t the end-all cure to motor vehicle accident deaths, but they are a good start.

Frank J. Colelli, captain,
Montgomery Township (PA) Department of Fire Services

Response: In our combination department, the director of fire services issued a directive that says it is mandatory for all members to wear seat belts while riding or operating in any department apparatus. It is the responsibility of the officer and the operator to enforce the policy.

As far as getting members to wear the seat belts, we can do a few things: (1) It is a state law in Pennsylvania; that should be enough to convince the members. However, if that is not enough, officers and operators can educate the members on the countless unnecessary firefighter LODDs or injuries caused by members’ not wearing their seat belts.

There are a ton of excuses for not wearing seat belts. Personally, I think it is time we put the excuses aside and do the right thing that will bring firefighters home at the end of the tour.

Skip Heflin, captain,
Hall County (GA) Fire Services

Response: Our written policy requires that anyone riding in a department vehicle must wear their seat belt. We consider it an individual responsibility. We try to place enforcement responsibility on the engineer and the company officer. We tell the engineers, “Don’t move the truck if everyone is not belted in.” In our training, we study past cases in which engineers or the company officer had been named in lawsuits for not enforcing seat belt use. In our Basic Apparatus Operator course, we spend an entire day on driving home this responsibility.

In the classroom, and when driving, we reinforce the same principles. If the student moves the apparatus without the instructor’s being belted in, the student fails. Our vehicles now include brightly colored material for seat belts so anyone can easily see when they are being worn. Before taking a class at our academy, students are required to sign a seat belt use commitment form. We tell the story of the captain who got in the truck and told the engineer, “Let’s go.” The engineer refused to move the truck because the captain was not belted in. The captain began to get angry at the engineer, but the engineer wouldn’t give in. Finally, the captain belted up. The captain later apologized to the engineer. It took time for the captain to realize that the engineer was just being responsible for the safety of the crew. I can’t remember the source of that story. It may even be fiction, but it drives home the point. Only through a change in the firefighters’ culture will they wear their seat belts.

Kenneth E. Morgan, battalion chief,
Clark County (NV) Fire Department

Response: Our SOPs, Section 2, state: “All Clark County Fire Department employees are required to use seat belts when operating a county vehicle. The officer in charge of the apparatus is responsible for enforcing said requirements.” This specifically puts the responsibility on the company officer.

Although this is fine on paper, it truly does not end there. The first and foremost individual with the responsibility for using seat belts is that individual in the seat belt who may be saved. Every firefighter, engineer, company officer, battalion chief, and rank has a responsibility to wear seat belts and set the example for their peers. We all choose this occupation knowing that things can happen and that some things are not foreseeable. Getting ejected from a rolling fire truck is.

We must remain diligent in enforcing this safety system regardless of whether we are responding to a call or going for groceries. It is no less important than PPE or SCBA. You can’t expect your rookies to wear seat belts if you don’t. Enforcing the policy by setting the example and taking personal responsibility for your own safety regardless of rank is key to changing the iron-grip culture in the fire service.

Michael A. Reinhardt, captain,
Kitchener (CA) Fire Department

Response: Our seat belt policy puts the onus on each individual to be seated and buckled whenever a vehicle is not in Park with the emergency brake applied.

The issue at this time is enforcing this policy. Most of our current fleet do not have a buckle buzzer warning system. Therefore, seat belt use is difficult to monitor. The duty officers from the front seat have limited opportunity and time to supervise the personnel in the rear of the vehicles. Of course, individual firefighters do not want to create an issue regarding this subject, even though it is they who will be at personal risk when their partners become projectiles who will land on them, injuring or killing them, in a crash situation. However, we are changing over our fleet, and it will be a short time before many of our response units are equipped with audible alarm mechanisms. These devices will assist in monitoring personnel.

It is imperative that we educate our members and have management take a hard line on enforcing the policy. Sometimes a heavy hand is the best way to change the ostrich mentality of those who do not want to accept the fact that seat belts save lives in our industry.

Len Nauman, safety officer,
Burkburnett (TX) Volunteer Fire Department

Response: Our 31-member department has a written SOG outlining our seat belt policy whether responding in an apparatus or privately owned vehicle. SOGs that deal with vehicle operation or response restate that policy. The policy is simple: Seat belts must be worn. Each member of the department is responsible for following the policy, but enforcement starts with the chief. The driver has the responsibility to ensure that each member riding in an apparatus is wearing a seat belt before placing the apparatus in motion. Almost every state has a seat belt law.

During a response, firefighters seem to be the major offenders in not wearing them. The biggest problem the fire service has to overcome is the attitude that wearing a seat belt slows down a firefighter’s exit from the apparatus. In most cases, we have proved that running lights and sirens does not significantly improve response time, but we can’t get firefighters to understand that the second it takes to buckle and unbuckle a seat belt may save their life without impeding their response.

Taking disciplinary action against firefighters for not wearing a seat belt may work in the short term, but that’s not the answer. A cultural change is going to have to take place to statistically prove using seat belts saves lives without sacrificing response. Drivers and officers are going to have to lead by example. Accidents happen. Firefighters are going to have to realize their apparatus do not make them invincible.

Ed Herrmann, captain,
Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our SOG on seat belts is very clear and brief: “Seat belts will be worn at all times when the vehicle is in motion. The company officer will authorize the driver to proceed when he is sure all personnel have their seat belts secured. For all those vehicles that do not have a company officer assigned, the driver will make sure all personnel have their seat belts secured.”

One would think that any fire-rescue professional given guidelines this specific would be able to carry them out. After all, we are the folks who have to witness tragedy after tragedy in which people have died in what would have been survivable accidents had they only worn this simple piece of equipment.

That said, the nature of our business makes 100 percent compliance difficult. We all know how awkward it is to attempt to start bunkering out while responding to a call when wearing a seat belt. Since our department handles medical transport, I see our SOG bent on a regular basis. When continuing patient care en route to a hospital, it is nearly impossible to remain belted at all times. These emergency situations make a temporary risk understandable, but there is absolutely no justification for not wearing a belt every time we are in a vehicle for nonemergency travel.

In the end, barring some technological advancement, it will always come down to firefighters looking out for each other, reminding themselves and their partners when there is no valid reason not to be belted.

Stan Mettinger Jr., captain,
Brooksville (FL) Fire Department

Response: The city policy is that seat belts be worn in all city-owned vehicles if the vehicles are so equipped. At one point, our (former) city manager issued a directive to the police chief stating that any city employee observed not using a seat belt was to be ticketed. I do not think it was ever done.

Our fire chief has a policy that seat belts be worn at all times. We have a significant problem enforcing it because of the ambiguous language in the City Rules for Discipline. Most employees comply without problem, but there are a few who do not just because “they can get by with it.” My shift personnel know that if they do not, they will be written up and counseled. I feel that SOGs should have stronger language that makes the requirement for seat belt use clear and explains the ramifications of not wearing them. Without strong backing from administration, enforcement is a monumental task, despite the documented benefits of using seat belts.

Richard V. Bickmore, training officer,
Moorestown (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our department has had a SOP on the books for many years, but it wasn’t enforced rigorously enough. With the advent of the Everyone Goes Home campaign, a renewed interest prompted department officers to begin reminding members before responding to each call or training session. For added emphasis, driver/operators have been empowered not to move the apparatus until everyone buckles up. Since then, the message has been consistently reinforced, and the results have been satisfactory.

Steve Kraft, deputy chief,
Richmond Hill Fire Department,
Ontario, Canada

Response: Over the past 12 months, our department has tried hard to educate staff on the use of seat belts. Our training division put together and delivered to staff a great program that included pictures, videos, and reasons for wearing seat belts. Compliance isn’t 100 percent (yet), but the majority of our people know the importance of wearing seat belts. Our staff members are told that seat belts are mandatory. It is written in policy and reinforced daily. I assume the company officers are responsible to ensure everyone is buckled up; after all, they are the designated adults. If a platoon chief notices someone is not wearing a seat belt, it is his responsibility to bring this lack of judgment to the firefighter’s (and officer’s) attention. Wearing seat belts on fire apparatus is a cultural issue. I believe the way to ensure 100 percent compliance is through teaching, coaching, counseling, and discipline (if needed). There are no excuses for not buckling up. It just might save your life.

Micky A. Blain, captain,
Fairview (TX) Fire Rescue

Response: Our all-volunteer department has a written seat belt policy and other SOGs regarding responses. I believe that, as the apparatus officer, it is my responsibility to ensure everyone is buckled up and that the ultimate responsibility for the apparatus is mine-mine alone! I ask every time before we roll, “Is everyone buckled up?” I have assigned the senior firefighter in the back the duty of visually checking for this before we roll.

Paul J. Urbano, captain,
Anchorage (AK) Fire Department

Response: Our driving policy states: “No department vehicle may be placed in motion unless and until all persons are properly seated with seat belts fastened.” It also states: “In the case of MICUs (ambulances), personnel in the patient compartment may elect not to wear seat belts if their use would compromise the employee’s ability to provide patient care.”

Individuals are responsible for wearing their seat belts; engineers are in control of the apparatus; and, ultimately, company officers are responsible for enforcing the policy.

The fire service is in the midst of a “safety” cultural shift. When SCBAs were first introduced, they weren’t immediately or completely embraced. Unfortunately, seat belt use in fire trucks isn’t either. We must be self-disciplined and get past the “it won’t happen to us” attitude.

Too many firefighters are killed because they do not wear their seat belts. We must embrace this simple solution to reduce line-of-duty deaths. We must consider the legal and monetary implications as well.

Attention apparatus manufacturers: Design cabs so we can eliminate excuses such as “I can’t reach it” and “I can’t get my SCBA on.”

Attention chiefs: Demand better seat belt-designed cabs from apparatus manufacturers, write a policy mandating seat belt use, and hold us accountable when we choose not to wear them.

Attention company officers: Lead by example. Wear your seat belts. If we don’t police ourselves, we may be forced to do unpopular things like placing SCBAs in compartments.

Attention apparatus operators: Don’t move the vehicle until everyone is seat-belted.

Tom Rinaldi, commissioner,
Stillwater (NY) Fire District

Response: Our department just formalized a written policy that calls for the use of seat belts in the vehicles. The policy is part of an overall vehicle use policy that includes training standards and use and response guidelines for all of our equipment. There are two challenges: The first is personnel related; the second is function related. Enforcing the policy is the responsibility of the Board of Fire Commissioners, the chief officers, the apparatus officer in command, and the driver. We are also posting in the station all motor vehicle accidents that involve fire apparatus in an attempt to change the culture among members. The one thing making it very difficult is the design of seat belts in the apparatus. Older equipment is severely deficient; the old-style belts don’t fit well, even without PPE on. Some of the newer equipment is deficient and difficult to buckle-you can’t find the female clip end along with the SCBA equipment straps and the close proximity of the seats. Our newest vehicle, yet to be delivered, has done a much better job. We’ll see.

What will get firefighters to wear seat belts? It is simple. Make it easy. Make it transparent. I think that with all of the pictures and publicity, our firefighters are convinced, but it’s not easy. Even if the manufacturers have to make four-point harnesses, they should do it. We need to have the engineer/designers put on the PPE, sit in the seats they design, and come up with an easy way to use the belts.

Matt Weil, captain,
North Oakland County (MI) Fire Authority

Response: It is simple. Wear the belt. It will save your life. The apparatus is not supposed to move until everyone is buckled. It is that simple. However, In the back of the ambulance, we are supposed to buckle up when patient care allows-which, in my opinion, is most of the time.

What really bothers me is that I take the time to e-mail articles about accidents that happened not only in the fire service but also in civilian life to say, in effect, “Meet the other guy. It can happen to anyone.” It is foolish that responders who see the carnage of human life need to be “reminded” to put on such a basic safety device as a seat belt. I am just dumbfounded.

Julie Miller, deputy chief,
Inuvik (NT, Canada) Fire Department

Response: Our department adopted a formal seat belt policy approximately three years ago, primarily in response to the large numbers of firefighters being injured or killed in motor vehicle incidents while responding to and returning from calls.

Changing opinions and habits proved to be extremely difficult, especially when many firefighters adopted their officer’s actions. Subsequently, enforcement of this policy has fallen on the officer assigned to/responsible for the unit. Each apparatus must have an officer onboard prior to departing. This officer is to ensure that all firefighters are restrained prior to the apparatus’ leaving the hall. Although we have this policy in place, ensuring that all firefighters are restrained prior to leaving the hall has taken a long time to enact/enforce. Seat belt use, it appeared, was quite dependent on what the officer had chosen to do.

By adapting the policy of “no apparatus moves until all occupants are restrained,” we found that we changed attitudes by forcing a behavioral change. Since the inception of this policy, our department has been quite successful in ensuring all occupants are restrained.

Eric Miller, lieutenant,
Parksville (B.C., Canada) Fire Department

Response: Our department has a strict seat belt policy: Seat belts will be worn at all times when an apparatus is in motion. No seat belt, and the apparatus does not move. This is spelled out very clearly in our SOGs. It is up to the apparatus officer to enforce the policy. Prior to moving, the apparatus officer verbally confirms that everyone is belted in.

I believe that there are two ways to ensure firefighters are wearing their seat belts. Obviously, the first is strict enforcement by the company officer. The second is through education. By posting and discussing LODDs that occur because of failure to wear a seat belt, we can clearly demonstrate the disastrous results that may occur should the apparatus be involved in an accident.

Jim Grady III, chief,
Frankfort (IL) Fire Department

Response: We have a seat belt policy; it is enforced by the officer and the driver. This might appear to be a double standard, but it is a backup policy: Both front-end people are responsible for ensuring the safe delivery of our fire/rescue team members.

The driver/operator is responsible for safe operation. To correct a problem or to make sure that seat belts are worn, how about having the engineer/operator not move until all are seated and belted in and stop while en route to a call if someone takes the belt off? We are researching whether we should move the SCBAs out of the cab. I think we should keep them in the cab and make sure that those in charge of the vehicle take charge. It is called ownership, responsibility, and being a good human being. Also, it is the law.

Derek Williams, captain,
Mesa (AZ) Fire Department

Response: We have had a seat belt policy for quite some time. We have rather good compliance and have had several engine company accidents that went without injury because of seat belt use. Not only is it policy-let us not forget-it is the law in Arizona (as well as in many other states).

Ultimately, our company officers are responsible for ensuring that seat belts are used at all times. But I like to emphasize to our members that it is everyone’s responsibility. If someone in the cab of a fire apparatus is not restrained, not only is that member endangering himself, but he is also endangering the other crew members. Would you consider riding in a truck with a 50-pound bag of cement bouncing around? A firefighter who is not seat-belted could do considerably more damage to you in an accident. Yet, it is awkward for some to directly address fellow firefighters’ lack of responsibility when they choose to ride unrestrained.

How do we get firefighters to wear seat belts? Military leaders say that one way to achieve victory over an enemy is to “win over their hearts and minds.” The enemy here is firefighter line-of-duty death. The hearts and minds we have to win over are our own! Until every fire department’s culture and attitude have changed on this issue, we will continue to see firefighters die senselessly while riding in emergency vehicles.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: We have a policy. It is the responsibility of each department member (individual accountability) to ensure that they are wearing their seat belts when the vehicle is in motion. However, the responsibility for making sure that all members riding the apparatus are wearing their seat belts falls directly on the company officer or senior member. As is the case when it comes down to responsibility and following orders and directives, the officer in charge has to exercise that authority to protect the members.

As for how we can get firefighters to wear seat belts, as with any safety initiative, hold them and their officers accountable. It never ceases to amaze me that we as a fire service can respond to a motor vehicle accident, get there, see that a couple of kids have been ejected and maybe the mother or father as well, get upset with the fact that “this wouldn’t have happened if they had just been wearing their seat belts,” and then get back on the rig, return to quarters or to another call, and not put on our own seat belts. It’s like a person complaining about a drunk driver and then going out for the night and driving his car while intoxicated.

I can understand that it can be cumbersome and at times difficult to wear a seat belt while riding an engine or a ladder truck to a call, but a little discomfort and a couple of seconds to buckle and unbuckle (that’s all it really takes) seem to be an easy way to ensure that “everyone goes home.” It is critical for the officer to be the crew’s leader first and buddy second.

Rick Mosher, lieutenant,
Merriam (KS) Fire Department

Response: We have a written seat belt policy. It is contained in the Alarm Response section of our General Orders and places responsibility on the fire apparatus operator (FAO). The FAO must ensure all firefighters are seated and belted before moving the engine or truck. We also place responsibility on the company officer in the Daily Operation section of our General Orders to ensure a safe environment for each member at all times during the shift. We take a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to not wearing a seat belt while riding in the engine or truck. Our firefighters know that not wearing a seat belt will result in corrective action. Our city and department have stated that being involved in an accident without wearing your seat belt could result in reduction or noncoverage of benefits. Kansas State law requires the use of seat belts in all motor vehicles.

Our solution is to instill in each member the understanding of why wearing seat belts is positive. This has been accomplished through the Safety Stand Down, the study of NIOSH LODD reports, practical training on how to bottle up while belted in, and the members holding each other accountable for safety. There have also been numerous fire apparatus accidents including some LODD in our regional area over the past several years. This has made a lasting impression on our members. It is pretty simple: Slow down and buckle up.

SEAT BELT POLICIES

I still haven’t figured out why we can’t do better! Year after year after year, we still lose more than 100 firefighters a year. Of these 100 or so fatalities, more than 25 percent are attributed to vehicular accidents. I have no statistical proof, but I’m sure that a portion of those 25 or so firefighters killed responding to or returning from incidents were wearing their seat belts. Still, we hear excuse after excuse for firefighters’ failing to “click” their seat belts: “I can’t don my SCBA en route to a fire and wear my seat belt.” “It slows me down.” “I get so pumped when the ‘tones’ go off that I simply forget to put my belt on.”

In Toledo, our seat belt policy is short and simple. It states, “All members shall be seated and wear seat belts while the vehicle is in motion.” A violation of this policy is considered a “safety violation.” The penalty for being found guilty of a safety violation is a written reprimand for the first violation, a five-day suspension for the second violation, a 10-day suspension for the third violation, and immediate dismissal for the fourth violation. Additionally, we hold not only the member but also the officer responsible for enforcing this policy. To the best of my recollection, we have had only one violation of this policy in the past 10 years. This policy is strictly enforced.

—John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.

Question: Every year, approximately 25 percent of the line-of-duty deaths are related to motor vehicle accidents. Several months ago, a fireengineering.com Quick Poll revealed that approximately half of the respondents said that they do not have a seat belt policy. Does your department have a written seat belt policy, and is it enforced?

Steve Kreis, assistant chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: It is hard to believe that in 2004 a fire department does not have a written seat belt policy. But, writing a policy is much easier than enforcing one. Our policy is pretty simple: Everybody must be seated and belted before the apparatus moves and must stay that way until the apparatus comes to a complete stop.

We have had a written policy on seat belt use for as long as I can remember, but about 10 years ago we encountered a situation that required a little attention. As with many other departments, we purchased apparatus with the seats that allowed us to have the SCBAs stored in the seat so that firefighters could put on their SCBA en route to an incident. Shortly after, we began hearing that our firefighters were seated and belted at all times except when responding to structural fire incidents.

To make a long story short, within a day or two after a series of meetings with all of the company officers and the chief, all SCBAs were removed from the interior of the apparatus and placed in exterior compartments. Our job is dangerous enough. Wear your seat belt.

Leigh Hollins, battalion chief, Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department has a written “Vehicle Operations” ROG that specifically deals with this issue—and, yes, this rule is enforced. In addition, Florida statutes require the use of seat belts. Here are three statements from the ROG.

1. Seat belts shall be worn at all times by all personnel on all department vehicles and apparatus.

2. All personnel on the apparatus shall remain seated and secured until the apparatus has completely stopped and it is safe to disembark.

3. The vehicle operator is responsible for operating the vehicle with due regard for the safety of all persons using the roadway and all personnel on the vehicle.

We train regularly on ROGs and line-of-duty-death (LODD) case histories and realize that the number two cause of LODDs is vehicle-related injuries. Recently at a neighboring fire department, a firefighter fell out of an engine responding to an alarm—an obvious violation that was totally preventable. Luckily, he was not seriously injured. Several of our officers regularly forward Internet news reports of such cases with the reminder, “Don’t let this happen to you!” A simple click of the mouse can send a strong message.

Michael Allora, lieutenant, Clifton (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our department does not have a written policy specifically addressing seat belt use. Whether or not a policy exists is certainly no excuse for a firefighter to ride an apparatus without wearing a seat belt. However, a department’s attitude toward safety should be reflected in its standard operating guidelines/procedures. For a department to ensure the safety of its members, a safety-conscious atmosphere must be inherent throughout the organization. Simply drafting policies will not make for a safer work environment. The mindset, the attitude toward safety, has to be altered, if necessary, for real change to take place.

We all know we should wear our seat belts, but “The seat belt gets in the way.” “It slows us down.” “It’s a hassle.” So what is the answer? Draft a policy that states that all personnel aboard the apparatus must be properly seat-belted prior to the apparatus’ moving, period. After that, hold the company officers responsible for enforcing the policy. The chief of the department must ensure that all members are aware that this is not a punitive measure. Communicate to your people that their safety comes first and that there is no excuse for an injury that is as foreseeable and as preventable as one sustained because a seat belt is not worn.

Doing something for years without getting hurt does not make it a safe practice. It just means that you’ve been fortunate up to this point not to have been hurt or killed doing it. I could not believe my eyes as I watched a New Jersey department respond to a call. As the truck turned the corner, I saw three firefighters standing on the back step. We recently read about the incident where a firefighter from New Jersey was injured as she fell from the back step of the apparatus. We cannot tolerate the loss of life under these circumstances any longer. Our job is dangerous enough. Draft a policy, enforce it, and empower your company officers to make safety paramount in all that the company does.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: Our policy requires the use of safety belts at all times when the vehicle is in motion. Our members follow the policy; therefore, enforcement does not seem to be a major issue.

The department policy is based on the State of Washington Administrative Code (WAC 296-305-04503), which requires that all persons riding on fire apparatus be seated and secured by seat belts anytime the vehicle is in motion. Members actively administering emergency medical care to patients are allowed some latitude in being restrained if necessary. This chapter of the WAC is enforced by the state’s safety and health inspectors. Failure to comply with the seat belt policy would most likely result in a citation and monetary penalty from the state.

In training, the practice of using seat belts is referenced in the NFPA standards and is also on the skills checklist for Firefighter I certification. From the start of firefighter training, the use of seat belts is a learning objective taught and reinforced, resulting in the establishment of seat belt use as a true safety habit.

Bob Zoldos, captain, Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department

Response: Our policy is to require that all members in all positions wear their seat belts at all times when a vehicle is in motion.

Gary Seidel, fire chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: Our department has a written seat belt policy and enforces it. In May of this year in our weekly article, which focused on Six Minutes for Safety, I encouraged each member of the department to take the opportunity to read the LODDs reports, which were distributed electronically by the United States Fire Administration (USFA). The reason for asking our employees to read the reports was to ensure that each member would make sure that “seat belt-related accidents” would not include them. Our policy, as well as the reminder in May, states: “To all Hillsboro Fire Department personnel: While riding in any fire apparatus, ambulances, rescue squads, sedans, etc., ALL PERSONNEL IN MOVING APPARATUS WILL BE BUCKLED IN.”

How do we enforce it? Mostly through the honor system. All members realize the importance of preventing injuries and reducing LODDs. That’s why we ensure that our members read the U.S. Fire Administration report on LODDs. Our members also realize that Oregon state law requires everyone to buckle up when in a moving vehicle, which includes fire apparatus. In addition, our members are aware that if they were involved in an accident that resulted in an injury or, worse, a fatality, and they weren’t buckled in, their workers’ compensation benefits could be in jeopardy. So for us, the honor system is working.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant, Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: The first part of the question is easy. Most definitely, my department has a written seat belt policy in place. The second part is a little more complicated. We are approximately 85 percent effective in having all members wear seat belts. Everyone has heard the reasoning for not wearing a seat belt. I am sure we all could make a long list, but excuses will not save us in a rollover accident; the seat belt will. All of our members know that if a chief sees you without a belt on, you will hear about it. This brings us to the company officers. We need to educate our members, probie or veteran, as to why it is so important to wear our seat belts at all times. I would rather my firefighters take five seconds to buckle their waist strap on their SCBA when we get on the scene than not have them wear their seat belts while responding to the incident.

On January 3, 1979, one of our engine companies was involved in a serious accident while responding to a structure fire. All three firefighters on the truck were wearing seat belts and survived with only minor injuries. I use this example because the firefighter in the jump seat that day is a captain today and a good friend. Many responsibilities come with being an officer. Ensuring that all of our firefighters are belted, responding or returning, has to be a top priority not just because the rules say so but also because we all have family to go home to the next morning.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York (FDNY)

Response: FDNY mandates the use of seat belts on all department vehicles. In fact, disciplinary action is considered when personnel are involved in an accident and it is discovered that the belts were not worn.

Despite this requirement, establishing 100 percent compliance is a challenge. Firefighters may resist using seat belts for a number of reasons. For one thing, there is an illusion of “safety” when riding in a large fire truck. The massive height and weight of the vehicle mask the possibility of being thrown through a window in a serious accident.

The distraction and stress of a response may also be factors. A firefighter is likely to be concentrating on gathering information on the fire or emergency, listening to the department radio, and exchanging knowledge with other crew members. The seat belt requirement may get lost in the excitement.

Unfortunately, poor habits and even peer pressure may keep some people from consistently buckling up. (Why should I be the one to look like a wimp?)

I do not believe that the threat of disciplinary action is enough to break bad habits. The company officer should set the tone by using his seat belt and requiring his personnel to do the same. A firefighter should be trained early in his career before bad habits develop.

According to the National Safety Council, a vehicle death occurs every 12 minutes in this country (there were 44,000 in 2002). With numbers like these, it is incumbent on any department to set an example by requiring and enforcing seat belt use by all personnel.

Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: Our department has a policy regarding seat belts; it is within the Apparatus Operations section. The policy is current and in force; all personnel are required to abide by it. The section pertaining to seat belts reads as follows:

A. All LFD personnel are required to use seat belts at all times when operating a City vehicle equipped with seat belts.

    1. Anyone riding as a passenger in a City vehicle is also required to use seat belts.

    B. If the vehicle is on the air (out of station) and receives an emergency run, the officer in charge can respond as quickly as possible with everyone staying belted in or pull the apparatus to a full stop, allow personnel to safely bunk out and return to their seats with seat belts on before the vehicle proceeds.

    It seems that not a week goes by where we don’t read about an accident involving fire department apparatus, and that’s considering those we just read about. With that in front of us, not wearing a seat belt today just doesn’t make it any more. If a department is operating without an SOP regarding seat belts, it is behind the 8-ball already and needs to implement one sooner than later. No matter how you paint it, wearing a seat belt makes a firefighter just that much more safer.

    Peter Sells, district chief, officer development, Toronto Fire Services

    Response: Our written policy on the use of seat belts references and is consistent with the Highway Traffic Act of the province of Ontario. The policy states, in part:

    “All personnel riding in or on Toronto Fire Services vehicles shall be in a seated position and wearing a seat belt while the vehicle is in motion. While in motion, the donning or doffing of equipment and personal protective clothing that requires removal of any restraining belt or other device shall be prohibited.”

    All officers shall ensure that persons under their command riding in Toronto Fire Services vehicles shall follow this policy. It is recognized that this guideline may not address all circumstances. Conditions may exist that might require reasonable discretion on the part of the officer in charge. Decisions should always take into consideration the safety of the public and Toronto Fire Services personnel.

    The only exception to this rule is when the apparatus are slowly moving at an emergency scene—e.g. laying out hose, picking up hose, and positioning apparatus, for example. This exemption is consistent with a similar exemption within the Highway Traffic Act, which states that the seat belt requirements do not apply to a person who is actually engaged in work that requires him to alight from and reenter a motor vehicle at frequent intervals and who, while engaged in the work, does not drive or travel in a vehicle at a speed exceeding 40 kilometers per hour.

    Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco

    Response: Our department is part of a large corporation of 55,000 employees. It has policies that govern the use of all company vehicles. These policies set the legal requirements for operating vehicles, speed limits, training requirements, and individual department responsibilities. One of the requirements for operating a company vehicle is the use of seat belts by all drivers and passengers. Company security officers strictly enforce these policies, and violation points are issued for infractions. Accumulated penalty points may result in warning letters or even dismissal. Each step in the disciplinary chain is clearly defined.

    Every employee must take a driver education course every three years, and operators of specialty vehicles must take a course specific to the specialized vehicle. In addition to the company requirement for specialized training, an operator of a fire apparatus must possess a special license issued by the government (similar to a commercial driver’s license) before operating the fire apparatus. Any infraction by an employee is also charged against the department’s safety record.

    Additionally, our department has an SOP pertaining to the operation of emergency vehicles. This SOP includes the provision that “the … emergency vehicle apparatus driver must not move the fire truck until [he is] sure that the entire crew is properly attired in full protective clothing, seated, and securely belted in place.”

    Vehicle safety is more than just wearing seat belts or enforcing a seat belt policy. A vehicle safety program should cover all aspects of responding, operating at, and returning from alarms as well as preventive maintenance programs. The days of riding the tailboard are over, but we still see injuries happening from such actions. We need to work together and make the vehicle safety program part of an all-encompassing health and safety program and continue to develop a “culture of safety.”

    Robert Shelton, firefighter/EMT-I, Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

    Response: Nationally, there is a seat belt policy with the slogan “Click it, or ticket,” penalties, and media campaigns extolling the benefits of using seat belts. Yet, we, the people who see the aftermath of accidents where seat belts are not used, are being injured and killed because we don’t use them.

    In my department, the seat belt policy is in our procedures manual on fire division vehicles under the title of “Driving and Operations.” The objective of this policy “is to provide procedures for safe and efficient operation of fire department vehicles.” In the section under “Driving” is the following:

    1. “Defensive driving shall be observed at all times.”

    2. “Drivers shall adjust to road, traffic, and weather conditions.”

    3. “The officer shall make a VISUAL check of apparatus to be certain that members are in position before boarding. The Officer will signal the driver to proceed ONLY after he has acknowledged everyone is in a seated position with SEAT BELTS FASTENED.”

    Another part of that policy states, “Members shall respond in a SEATED position with SEAT BELT in service. Members shall not stand on back platform for any reason.” Even during tillerman training, the person outside the tiller cab MUST wear a lifebelt hooked onto the apparatus.

    The procedure is in place and in writing, with no options. The procedure holds the person in the right front seat, be it an officer or a firefighter riding in charge, responsible for ensuring that all are seated and belted in their respective riding positions before the apparatus moves.

    I have worked for two full-time and two combination departments in my almost 14 years in the fire service; all have had written seat belt policies. The issue is not one of implementation, as I see it, but enforcement. While responding to a run, so many things run through your mind—location of hydrants, for example, for an engine company; type of building, aerial placement, for example, for a truck company—that the last thing considered is whether a firefighter’s seat belt is fastened. There are some individual exceptions, as with everything, but this has generally been the rule in my experience. And, I admit that I am guilty of not doing this while riding in charge as well.

    All of us need to put forth a more diligent effort to do everything we can to get us home at the end of the shift. We have state-of-the-art equipment, thermal imaging cameras, protective gear, and so on, to help us do our job and be safe. Who would consider entering a toxic atmosphere without an SCBA? The safety belt is just another tool in our ever-changing arsenal that has been overlooked for some time by so many. This one tool will help ensure our safety and longevity in the fire service and, hopefully, decrease instead of increase the statistics on accidents.

    Danny Kistner, battalion chief, Garland (TX) Fire Department

    Response: It is our policy to wear safety belts whenever apparatus are in motion, regardless of the type of apparatus. Enforcement is the responsibility of the company officer and the apparatus driver. Additionally, a presumption exists that every firefighter should share in the burden of his own safety by buckling up.

    No doubt, the reluctance to wear safety belts contributes to morbidity and mortality in apparatus collisions. Why, then, are some firefighters hesitant to wear them? Firefighters, like everyone else, are human and often rationalize to justify specific behaviors—seat belts hinder the donning of protective gear, they are uncomfortable, they prevent firefighters from turning around and facing forward in the crew cab, they prevent firefighters from standing up to see what’s ahead. Many can remember the days when the thought of a safety belt did not even enter the thought process. Further, throw EMS into the mix, and firefighter/paramedics riding in the patient compartment can argue that rescue personnel wearing safety belts can inhibit patient care.

    Administrative and physical controls need to be applied simultaneously. Administrative controls exist in the forms of SOPs, policies, and procedures. A clear line of accountability that identifies the person responsible for enforcement and consequences for not following policy needs to be drawn. Escalating discipline must follow noncompliance. Physical controls on apparatus exist in the form of alarms, pressure switches, and the like. A buzzer signals to the driver or officer that a seat is occupied but the safety belt is not engaged. Care must be taken to see that these devices are not circumvented or sabotaged, and it must be made clear that personnel caught tampering with these devices will be subject to discipline. The officer and the driver who enforce the policy show a true concern for firefighters’ well-being.

    Garland firefighters are instructed to don all PPE prior to boarding apparatus or to the apparatus’ exiting the station. If a response comes in while the vehicle is already out, firefighters are instructed to don gear on arrival at the scene. All firefighters participate in weekly drills on donning PPE to keep actual performance times to a minimum.

    Firefighters engaged in EMS activities during transport should exercise as much discretion as possible. It is understood within the department that paramedics can tend to the patient’s needs as the situation dictates; however, when not actively engaged in administering medical intervention, the paramedic must be seated and belted.

    All firefighters on an apparatus should be held accountable for the proper use of safety belts while the apparatus is in motion. The driver should not engage the vehicle until he is sure that all personnel are properly strapped in. The fire officer, likewise, should not give the order for the apparatus to proceed until he is sure all firefighters are observing proper safety procedures and are strapped in. Finally, the individual firefighters should insist that the apparatus not leave the station until they are properly strapped in. All personnel owe it to themselves, their families, and the community they serve to stay alive.

    Keith D. Smith, chief, Westfield Washington Township (IN) Fire Department

    Response: We have a written apparatus/ vehicle seat belt policy that has been in effect for more than five years. Enforcement is the responsibility of the company officer, but mandatory use is not as big an issue for us as it is with many departments.

    There is a very practical reason for wearing seat belts—self-survival for our firefighters. In our response area (metro Indianapolis), two major arteries handle huge volumes of traffic. Both highways are also truck routes. The practicality of seat belts derives from our emergency responders’ having to cross both arteries almost daily. Accidents at these busy intersections are frequent and deadly. Both highways are among Indiana’s most hazardous.

    Firefighters recognize those hazards and see traffic accident results almost every day. The seat belt lesson is obvious, because not being fastened in the cab is nearly suicidal given the nature of our environment. It is fairly common for our firefighters to still witness the resulting injuries at accidents where seat belts were unused. That picture does well for enforcing the use of seat belts.

    Tom Cole, battalion chief, Miami Dade (FL).Fire Rescue

    Response: In Miami Dade County, several policies state that seat belts should be worn. There is an Administrative Order that states that all occupants will wear seat belts or safety belts when a fire department vehicle is in motion. There is also a Safety Manual prepared by the Office of Safety and Risk Management Division that states that the employee is responsible for ensuring that all occupants properly wear seat belts and/or other required personnel restraints when operating a county vehicle. Furthermore, the Metro-Dade County Employee Safe Driving Rules Manual stresses the importance of wearing seat belts while driving any fire department vehicles and that failure to wear the appropriate restraint device may result in denial of disability leave benefits. The department strongly enforces these policies, and they are not to be taken lightly.

    Whether responding to a call or simply driving to the grocery store, it is ultimately the unit officer’s responsibility to ensure all persons are properly seat belted and the apparatus is safe to drive.

    Brian Bartolick, lieutenant, Bushnell’s Basin Fire Department, Perinton, New York

    Response: At this time, our department does not have a written seat belt policy. However, we have recently introduced a draft policy into the departmental review process. There has been a push in recent months by the company officers to get firefighters to buy into the mandatory seat belt concept. We have two engines, which have shoulder and lap belts in each seat. They are easy to access and use, eliminating the most common excuse for not using the seat belt.

    For the most part, our drivers and company officers are leading by example and use the seat belt at all times, but firefighters in the rear of the cab are not always taking the hint. Most crew members refuse to buckle up during an emergency response, citing the need to “pack up.” We’ve dispelled this misconception by showing the firefighters that only a few seconds are wasted by getting the pack on once the apparatus arrives at the scene.

    We hope that in the future, with increased training, a written policy, and increased leadership by first-line supervisors, all firefighters will use the seat belts provided in the apparatus anytime the unit is in motion.

    Jack M. Smith, training officer, North Slope Borough Fire Department, Barrow, Alaska

    Response: We have a driving policy that mandates the use of seat belts in all vehicles. The policy is usually enforced in fire apparatus and EMS units, but many individuals fail to abide by the policy in other fire department vehicles. Training programs have stressed the importance of making wearing seat belts a habit in every vehicle. Although many of the remote seven communities strictly enforce the policy, the largest community continues to have some members who fail to abide by the policy. In a combination department, this can be disturbing; volunteers frequently look to the career personnel as role models. For a policy to be effective and enforceable, every one must comply.

    Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy

    Response: It strikes me as incredible that 50 percent of respondents to a Fire Engineering poll indicated that their department did not have a policy requiring members to don their seat belts prior to operating the apparatus. The chief and company officers who tolerate such conditions are indeed poor excuses for fire officers. Let us resolve right here and now that no brothers or sisters shall ever again die needlessly in a traffic crash because they weren’t wearing a seat belt.

    In fact, because so many officers are clearly negligent in ensuring the safety of their members, let’s not leave it up to them anymore. Let’s require engineering controls that won’t allow the parking brake to disengage until all riding positions in which a person’s weight is present have engaged seat belts. We might need some type of override device to allow for the rare case where the sensors are faulty; however, some type of device could be used to record these failures. Safety officers would periodically inspect the apparatus to ensure the devices had not been defeated. Let’s grow up and act responsibly! Let’s quit killing ourselves unnecessarily. Let’s quit driving like irresponsible idiots. Let’s not bury any more brothers or sisters because they weren’t wearing a seat belt.

    Bobby Halton, chief, Coppell (TX) Fire Department

    Response: Our department has a directive that requires all members to be belted at all times while the apparatus is in motion. The company officer is responsible for ensuring that the company members are properly turned out for the run before they get on. There is no reason for any Coppell firefighter to be unrestrained in the cab of a fire truck. Electronic devices to prevent the apparatus from starting until everyone is belted are not used, but our department would not oppose them.

    We stop at red lights and stop signs and try to keep our speed below mach 2. We trust the officers managing our hiring process to weed out any crash test dummies and prevent them from being members of the department. It is hard for us to imagine how anyone cannot understand the value of a seat belt.

    To my knowledge, we have not had to enforce this policy through disciplinary actions or anything of that nature, which shows the caliber of our folks. Smart people working for and with smart people generally have little trouble doing the right thing.

    Richard Royston, chief, Delhi Township Fire Department, Holt, Michigan

    Response: Our department has a policy concerning the wearing of seat belts in all fire department apparatus: The engineer is not to move the vehicle on any call until all personnel are in their seats with their seat belts fastened.

    Although this was very difficult to enforce in the beginning, it has become easier as personnel have begun to realize that the added time it takes to fasten the seat belt does not have an overall impact on arrival times or the outcome of the call.

    We have found that it is particularly difficult, but not impossible, for the officer in each fire apparatus to don the seat belt because of the limited space available in the officer seat and the need for the officer to don the SCBA prior to being belted in the seat. This has resulted often in the officer’s taking the SCBA unit out of the seat and placing it on his back before getting into the apparatus. He then fastens the seat belt.

    We are committed to making this safety policy work and have no intention of changing it because of any difficulties associated with using SCBA or any other fire department materials.

    I cannot imagine trying to explain to a firefighter’s loved one that he died or was critically injured as a result of something as simple as not wearing a seat belt. Deaths such as these are the most preventable.

    Jeff A. Welch, reserve firefighter, Coeur d’ Alene (ID) Fire Department

    Response: Our seat belt policy is very short and to the point. It states that all personnel riding on apparatus shall be seated and all personnel shall use seat belts. It also states that it is the responsibility of the officer and the driver to ensure that all personnel are in place and seat belts are used before allowing the driver to move the vehicle. I believe that nearly everyone (if not everyone) uses this piece of safety equipment. If positive reinforcement is needed when this piece of safety equipment is not being used, it would come from the station officer.

    I would be curious to find out how many responders to the survey mentioned above in fact use a seat belt in the apparatus even though their departments do not have a seat belt policy, (I do not have a seat belt policy for my personal vehicle, but I wear a seat belt.) How many departments have a written policy that says PPE shall be donned when entering a fire? Common sense tell us that if there is something we can use or an action we can take to minimize our exposure to injury or death, it should be done regardless of whether a written policy exists.