The Professional Volunteer Fire Department, Part 20—Safe Driving Policies

By Thomas A. Merrill

Last month, I discussed the importance of implementing a quality driver training program to ensure that our members are legally qualified to drive and properly instructed on all aspects of their department’s emergency vehicle’s operations. The training program should also encompass a thorough review of the department’s policies or guidelines pertaining to apparatus response. Hopefully, your department has these important documents in place. Following are just a few of the many important policies, guidelines, or rules that departments should have in place to help guide their vehicle responses.

Once a member is qualified to drive vehicles, the training should not stop there. One idea to consider is an annual driver recertification program where members review and demonstrate proficiency on various vehicles. Drivers can go months between emergency runs. Some members may not regularly drive even after they are qualified to do so. They also may live quite a distance from the firehouse and rarely make it there in time to get a rig on the road.

Or, they simply may not like driving and only choose to do it if nobody else is around and willing to take the responsibility. However, that day always comes when they will be needed. They may show up to the firehouse for only a few minutes, but while they are there, that alarm comes in and nobody else is around. They need to get the rig on the road. They must be ready. They must be confident in their ability to drive the rig safely and efficiently. Their teammates must be confident in them as well; lives and property are on the line.

Another great idea is a yearly refresher program to keep drivers sharp and proficient. Department leaders can consult NFPA 1002, Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, for information and guidelines to assist with establishing requirements for drivers as well as establishing a recertification program.

The program should review important department polices and guidelines, designate driving routes that offer various turns and some challenges to the operator, and outline other specific operational aspects of the rig with which the driver needs to demonstrate competence. Designate apparatus trainers or—as my department calls them— “preceptors,” who are authorized and qualified to take the drivers out and do the refresher training. Typically, these preceptors are senior members (which is a great way to keep these veterans involved and motivated) and fire officers, provided they are trained and proficient with the apparatus. Some departments do refresher training on a designated night or series of nights, while others allow members to do it at any time during the course of the year.

Nobody should get a pass on refresher training. Chief officers and those designated as preceptors should go through it yearly as well to remain familiar with the rigs. Even if a preceptor regularly instructs drivers on one of the vehicles, they should still review and demonstrate proficiency on another vehicle in the fleet.  

Because some departments have a wide variety of vehicles, it may prove cumbersome for members to review each vehicle during the course of the year. One idea that has proved successful is to have the members review a different vehicle each year rotating among them so they are all reviewed within a set amount of years. This requires some solid administrative skills, but all aspects of our training requires good record keeping, so it shouldn’t prove too difficult to properly keep track of vehicle recertification efforts.

As mentioned in the previous article, keeping a well-documented record of the driver training and recertification programs is paramount to a professional operation. One of the first things investigators will want to see if a member is involved in an accident is a record of the training and the hours that the driver has. Not only can thorough documentation protect the department in times of litigation, it certainly can protect the member as well. There are some great software programs out there dedicated specifically to the fire service that can greatly assist with this.

As I read many of the line-of-duty injury and death reports (even recent ones), I continue to be amazed at the number of apparatus accidents involving firefighters not wearing seat belts. Stop this nonsense! Buckle up! No exceptions. Mandate it. Ensure compliance. Hold people accountable. Get the word out that the rig doesn’t roll until everyone is belted. This applies to emergency responses as well. Anytime the rigs leave the firehouse, our firefighters need to be properly belted in. Our fire service history is filled with painful reminders of why this is necessary.

In addition, apparatus should never back up without spotters. Again, even in the recent past, there have been some horrific tragedies involving apparatus backing up that could easily have been avoided with spotters in place. A simple hand gesture or radio transmission to stop the rig, and we would still have some brothers and sisters with us today.

One idea that is catching on throughout the fire service is having a reduced or modified response program. In the past, a department might have sent its entire fleet or several engines, a truck, and heavy rescue and support vehicles to an alarm activation call, all with lights and sirens activated.  These programs limit the amount of vehicles responding or reduce the response from all vehicles going with lights and sirens to maybe just one or two blaring lights and sirens. It’s an idea worth considering. While the incident is still being investigated, and if additional information is received by dispatch indicating a true emergency, the response can easily be upgraded. This concept is not always embraced, but can we not agree that just because our tones drop, our pager goes off, or the rooftop siren wails, it does NOT mandate a lights and sirens response every time? A carbon monoxide detector activation response with the residents showing no ill symptoms does not require lights and sirens while responding. Or, what about relocating to cover another department‘s district while it is out to a fire. In 1986 in Darien, New York, a father, his eight-year-old daughter, and a 10-year old family friend were killed when the vehicle they were in was struck by a fire truck as it responded—with lights and sirens—to stand by at a neighboring firehouse. Consider modified response programs.  

Finally, driver training and department policies, guidelines, and programs should not be limited to fire apparatus only. Get the word out and educate your members about driving their personal vehicles as well. They need to buckle up and drive with due regard. They need to obey traffic control devices, even if they are responding to “the big one.”  

Remember, people will see that fire department membership sticker, that emergency or courtesy light, that personalized fire department license plate, or any number of other things that identify our firefighters as firefighters when they are driving their personal vehicles around. Their actions behind the wheel directly impact the image and reputation of the fire department. Make it a professional image by acting accordingly at all times. Refrain from yelling, from engaging in profanity-laced outbursts, or from making nasty gestures when Mr. or Mrs. Citizen doesn’t afford you the courtesy of moving over for your vehicle or they suddenly stop when they see the warning lights approaching from behind them.  

These are just a few of the many driving polices, guidelines, rules, or programs that you should consider implementing in your volunteer fire department. Many departments already have these and many more. Review them from time to time. Ensure compliance with them. Combined with a quality apparatus training program, ideas such as these will pay huge dividends for the professional volunteer fire department.  

 

Thomas A. Merrill is a 30-year fire department veteran in the Snyder Fire Department, which is located in Amherst, New York. He served 26 years as a department officer, including 15 years in the chief officer ranks, and recently completed five years as chief of department. He also is a professional fire dispatcher for the town of Amherst fire alarm office. He can be reached at tamerrill63@aol.com.

 

No posts to display