June Roundtable: Seat Belt Policy

By John “Skip” Coleman

This month’s theme in Fire Engineering is safety. The June issue is almost always focused on safety. As the saying goes, “safety is an attitude.” Apparently, in the fire service, we have a lot of firefighters with BAD attitudes.

Generally, in the Roundtable articles, I take a laid-back, back row seat approach to the topic at hand. I believe that that is the true role of a facilitator or moderator. To present the question and let the panel go (you) go where they may (within the context of the question). This month, however, I feel compelled to throw caution to the wind and state my opinion. We allow too many firefighters and their immediate supervisors “leniency” when they are injured. To be sure, this is a tough and dangerous job. We as firefighters will always get injured. But, when a firefighter is injured due to not following an established, written safety procedure, who is to blame and to what extent?

My good friend Billy Goldfeder sends me e-mails almost daily as part of his “secret list.” These valuable e-mails serve as reminders as to the dangers associated with our profession. Many of the emails related to firefighter injury and death concern vehicular accidents and the fact that a firefighter (either in his or her privately owned vehicle or fire department apparatus) was killed or injured because they were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. If the department with which the firefighter who was killed or injured had a specific policy requiring the mandatory use of a seat belt, then in my opinion, this may have been a preventable death or injury. Please don’t get me wrong! I know there are firefighters injured and killed in vehicular accidents while they were correctly wearing their seat belt. But in the instances where they were not and a policy existed, we most certainly never hear of ramifications for those responsible. I would be hard pressed to hold anyone else than the driver of the privately owned vehicle who was injured in an accident while not wearing a seat belt. (Certainly adequate ramifications are present when a firefighter is killed under this situation.) But when a firefighter is injured in an accident involving a fire department apparatus, we rarely if ever hear of the ramifications. Perhaps if we did, we would see a decrease in the rate of injured firefighters that did not have on their seat belt.

I asked a question similar to this in my Fire Engineering Blog and was surprised the first several respondents’ said they did not have a current policy or were just implementing one.

That brings me to this month’s question: Does your department have a mandatory seat belt policy? Is it enforced and who is responsible for its enforcement?  Does the officer have any culpability if a firefighter knowingly violates the policy and should he?

CLICK HERE to e-mail us your reply. Please keep your response to 250 words and include your name, rank, department, city, and state.. Replies are due by June 24 and will be published in a subsequent article later this month.  

John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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