Do you have a PAIP in place for when the emergency involves your own service?
A tragic incident in which a NY firefighter was killed by ambulance should have your department reviewing post-accident/incident plans, EVOC and safety courses
Early in the morning of June 23, 2019, a Port Jervis Volunteer Ambulance was departing their station to respond to a call for help when they struck and killed an individual apparently sleeping outside of their ambulance bay. As if being involved in a fatal crash on the way to another call wasn’t difficult enough, the victim was a long-time firefighter with the Port Jervis Fire Department.
In a similar 2016 case, a University of Connecticut student was killed when a University Fire Department vehicle departed the station en route to a fire alarm call. In that case, the victim was highly intoxicated and thought to be sleeping up against the door. She likely fell back as the door opened and the supervisor struck her with a Tahoe while leaving the station. The incident was not detected until crews returned to the stations over an hour later.
Top takeaways from the firefighter killed by an ambulance
Public safety agencies live to serve others in their time of need, and we don’t always take a step back to think about how we would react if the emergency involved our own service. Hopefully your agency will never have to implement them, but it is well worth it to review some of these takeaways before you need them.
1. Don't assume that your station is a safe zone
The rules for emergency vehicle operation apply in and around the station just as they do out on a scene. You must clear the area that your vehicle will be moving in whether you are going forward or backing up. Especially in ambulances or fire equipment with large hoods, blocky vehicle bodies and multiple blind spots, the path must be cleared before the vehicle begins to move.
There are many hazards in and around the station, including school children on tour, families visiting on-duty crew members, gear and equipment pulled out of a vehicle for checks or maintenance, cleaning supplies and training materials.
The same applies for the space outside our vehicle bay. There may be a big sign reading “No Parking,” but is the area truly always clear of pedestrians, bicycles and equipment? Have you ever set up a lawn chair in the bay door opening on a beautiful day? I have.
And just because it was clear at the beginning of the shift doesn’t mean that it is still that way. EMS and fire stations are very dynamic places.
2. Review and comply with CEVO/EVOC policies
Does your service have a policy about how frequently drivers take a safety course? Do you comply with it? Undoubtedly, the investigation into this event will include a review of the service’s emergency vehicle operations training and policies. Do your policies include any language about ensuring that the path of the vehicle is clear of any hazards before the vehicle begins moving?
Pilots of helicopters and airplanes always do one last walk around before climbing in the aircraft. Would a similar 360 have prevented this tragic incident? We don’t know, but my walk to the ambulance will now include looking out the bay door as it opens.
3. Have a post-accident/incident plan for high-profile events
Many emergency services, particularly helicopter EMS agencies, have a post-accident/incident plan or PAIP to help them manage the first minutes and hours after their agency is involved in an event like this. A PAIP can support leaders though incidents through high-profile events, such as the death of a responder, a vehicle crash, a squad member involved in some sort of a crime or other high-profile incident, or the theft of an ambulance.
The PAIP will include resources such as a checklist of officials/leaders to notify, incident documentation forms, a current department member roster and emergency contact details, media contacts and sample press releases, insurance agency contacts and mutual aid resources to cover department operations while your service recovers from the event.
4. Provide counseling for personnel after a loss
As public safety providers, we come to work every shift hoping to be able to help someone. The thought that we may harm or even kill a person (however unintentionally), much less another EMS, fire or law enforcement professional, is unconceivable to most. No matter what the circumstances or root cause of this accident turn out to be, these providers will need some level of mental health and grief counselling. Whether it is Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), mental health first aid, or just being connected with agency counselling resources, everyone involved should have access to any help they may need.
Include these resources and how you activate them in your PAIP.
Stay safe out there.