Driving Fire Apparatus Safely

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1 Driving Fire Apparatus Safely A safety publication of the Utica National Insurance Group

2 Accidents with fire department vehicles while responding to or returning from emergencies occur with a disturbing frequency. Injuries to firefighters and civilians often result from emergency situations, and losses caused by damage to fire department vehicles can be extremely costly. In addition, there is the concern that a wrecked fire truck will not arrive at a fire scene where it is needed and thus the community is deprived of its necessary protection while it is being repaired or replaced. During a recent year, the National Fire Protection Association recorded 5,890 injuries while firefighters were responding to or returning from emergency incidents. Accidents involving fire apparatus are responsible for approximately 25% of the firefighter deaths in the past several years. Volunteer firefighter response while using personal vehicles has produced major accident/injury/ death incidents. What are the causes? The response problem A second element in the response problem is that the driver will be handling a vehicle that is far different from the one that he drives on a day-to-day basis. The first step in addressing any safety problem is to identify the causes. Determining what causes accidents enables you to develop a plan to prevent future accidents. Before causes can be accurately determined, a clear understanding of the problem is needed. An alarm or request for help in an emergency situation triggers some instinctive responses. The first and most dangerous is the desire to rapidly respond to and arrive at the scene to begin work on the problem. To assure passenger security, drivers should not place the vehicle into motion until everyone on board is seated and belted into position. The desire to hurry to the scene affects our ability to drive with the necessary care and safety. This is a major philosophical error that must be corrected. The most important objective of an emergency response should be to arrive promptly but safely without subjecting the driver, crew, vehicle, or others to unnecessary hazards.

3 The response problem (cont.) An important series of adjustments must be made by a driver as he leaves his own passenger car and begins to drive a fifteen-ton fire vehicle that is over thirty-feet long and nine-feet high. The causes of fire apparatus accidents Careful analysis of accidents involving fire vehicles has led to these conclusions. Common causes of apparatus accidents: excessive speed failing to stop at controlled intersections over-reliance on lights and sirens unsafe backing of emergency vehicles Each of these factors can be lessened or eliminated in most cases by proper driver training and response procedures. Drivers of emergency vehicles should bring the vehicle to a complete stop at red lights, stop signs, blind intersections, when encountering stopped school buses, when unable to account for all lanes of traffic at an intersection, and when directed to do so by a law enforcement officer. At unguarded railroad crossings, drivers should come to a complete stop and assure that it is safe to proceed before driving over railroad tracks. Who should drive? Selection of the correct personnel to act as drivers is the first step in a driver training program. To make this decision, the Chief and governing body need information about a prospective driver. A simple application form should include information regarding driving experience, a listing of prior accidents and violations, medical history, and references in addition to other information you may deem necessary. Once a potential candidate is selected based on a satisfactory driving history, he or she is ready to begin training.

4 Driver training Fire apparatus operators require training in three areas for each piece of apparatus: initial basic training periodic refresher training at the time new apparatus is received The initial training should include familiarization with the vehicle, department policies and laws, and regulations governing emergency vehicles. The need to control speed during responses and at other times should be constantly stressed. Passing and following fire department vehicles The risk of injuring civilians or firefighters due to improper and careless driving in order to save a few minutes response time cannot be justified. Probably the most common and serious offense of apparatus drivers is using excessive speed. Although the speed with which a response is made may seem important, safety should take precedence. When a driver is operating at a dangerous speed, the officer in the apparatus should caution him to slow down. Personnel responding in their private vehicles should maintain good discipline and drive with as much caution as any other vehicle and obey all applicable traffic laws. It is generally dangerous for one emergency vehicle to pass another. Two or more apparatus responding to an alarm or returning to the station should proceed in single file. Pass only when the emergency apparatus to be passed gives the signal, and then only with extreme care. Units should maintain a following distance of 300- to 500-feet apart in responding to alarms. Stopping distances on slippery surfaces are much greater than on dry roads and following distances should be adjusted accordingly. In addition, the heavier the vehicle, the greater the stopping distance. Sometimes a driver ahead may slow down quickly on dry pavement while the following apparatus has an icy surface on which to stop. Consider road conditions when establishing following distances and do not tailgate. When several emergency

5 vehicles are traveling in line, the drivers of the second, third, and other vehicles should be especially alert to drivers who may assume that only one apparatus is passing. Traffic laws All drivers should be knowledgeable of traffic laws and rules governing fire departments in your state. Most state traffic laws provide the driver of emergency vehicles with right-of-way privileges. However, this does not relieve the driver of his or her responsibility to drive safely. Courts are more frequently abandoning the idea that emergency vehicle drivers can do no wrong. In addition, the scope of civil liability for the responsible agency (city, county, and state government) has been steadily broadened in recent years. The trend in this area is good reason why emergency vehicle drivers must be cautious and drive defensively. However, the main reason for exercising extreme caution when operating emergency vehicles is to prevent accidents. Drivers of fire apparatus are regulated by state law and departmental policies. Copies of the laws and rules governing a particular department should be made available to all involved personnel. Generally, laws allow speed limits that are set for the public to be exceeded within the limits of a local policy as long as the driver does not endanger life or property. A driver may also disregard regulations which apply to the general public concerning the direction of travel, direction of turns, and parking of vehicles. However, he must be in full control of the apparatus and it is his responsibility to avoid vehicles or pedestrians when disregarding traffic regulations. The driver is usually permitted to drive through traffic control lights and stop signs but, again, it must be stressed that the responsibility for defensive driving lies with the apparatus driver. Emergency vehicles are NOT exempt from state laws that require all vehicles to stop for school buses that

6 Most laws provide that other vehicles must pull toward the curb and remain at a standstill until emergency apparatus have passed. are flashing signal lights to indicate that children are being received or discharged. Fire apparatus should proceed only after a proper signal is given by the bus driver. Apparatus drivers should not assume, however, that all persons will respond in this manner. Some drivers may not be aware of the proper method of yielding to an emergency vehicle, or the sound of the siren may confuse them and cause them to accidentally move into the lane of traffic or stop suddenly in the middle of the street. Some may not hear audible warning devices because of street noise, air conditioning, or radios. Drivers should not rely on or become overconfident of the effectiveness of these warning signals. Each state has requirements for the minimum amount of warning lights, colors allowed, and the intensity of illumination provided. Each department should consult the law and court interpretations to be legally safe. A thorough study should be conducted to determine what is most effective for the driving conditions encountered and perhaps provide more than the legal minimum requirements. When purchasing warning lights, lights which temporarily blind other drivers should be avoided. Vehicle characteristics The use of warning signals and all the other special privileges applicable to emergency vehicles must be limited to true emergency calls. When returning to the fire station from an alarm, drivers should obey all traffic regulations and the posted speed limits. Understanding the limitations and characteristics of the unit being operated is a necessity. This is especially true with regard to steering characteristics, stopping distances, acceleration ability, and physical size. Knowing the center of gravity for a particular vehicle can be valuable since the stability of the vehicle depends to a large degree on the distance the center of gravity is above ground.

7 Engineers have made the center of gravity so low that it is difficult to tip over a modern car, but fire apparatus which contain mounted water tanks, hose beds, and additional equipment have a higher center of gravity. Brakes There is a great need for caution on curves and sharp turns because of this higher center of gravity. Tires greatly affect the vehicle control, and tire-tread depth and condition should be checked regularly in accordance with the manufacturer s recommendations for minimum tread depth. Brakes on fire apparatus and other emergency vehicles are subjected to more severe use than other vehicles. Apparatus weight has greatly increased in recent years, especially because of larger water tanks. Total stopping distance is dependent on vehicle braking distance, driver reaction distance, speed, and other factors. A driver should have a knowledge of the total stopping distance and the vehicle braking distance. Avoiding backing accidents Driver reaction distance is the distance that a vehicle will travel while a driver is transferring his foot from the accelerator to the brake pedal after he perceives a need for stopping. The braking distance is the distance the vehicle travels from the time the brakes are applied until it comes to a complete stop. Speed directly affects the distance that is required to stop a vehicle. Modern fire apparatus have greatly increased in length, width, height, and weight. These factors have created blind-spots on some vehicles and affect right-hand turns and backing of the vehicle. If possible, avoid backing apparatus. It is normally safer and quicker to drive around the block. There are situations where it is necessary to back up and, when it is essential, backing should be done with caution. Never back an apparatus without at least one person

8 Avoiding backing accidents (cont.) Weather considerations on foot to clear the way and direct the driver. This practice also applies when backing into a fire station. In some situations, it is best to have two firefighters direct the driver. The driver of an emergency vehicle must be constantly alert during inclement weather. Rainstorms, snow, and fog decrease visibility, and allowances in speed and following distances must be made. During the first few minutes of a rainstorm the pavement can be extremely hazardous since the accumulation of grease and oils on the pavement makes an extremely slippery emulsion. Vehicles tend to hydroplane, or skim along on the surface of water, above certain speeds on wet pavement. Safe drivers slow down to meet the conditions of the road and their own capabilities. Icy or snowy roads present special hazards which must be taken into consideration. A closing note A driver should get the feel of the roads by trying out the brakes occasionally while driving slowly and away from traffic. This will acquaint him with the slipperiness of the road. Speed should be decreased so that stops and maneuvering can be handled safely. Driving fire apparatus safely is the vehicle operator s most important responsibility. The operator must be aware of this responsibility and have the vehicle under control at all times. The operator must be familiar with traffic laws, especially those which apply to him in his unique drivin capacity. The key factors in driving apparatus safely are to control speed, stop at controlled intersections, use sirens and warning lights wisely, and back only when using a spotter. 2-R-565 Ed. 1-02

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