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Name the One Operation That Takes Place on Every Response?

There's an operation that takes place on every response when any call for emergency services comes in: getting into a multi-ton vehicle and riding it to the scene of the incident. Even if a person walks up to your station in need of help, at some point you'll put them in an ambulance and drive them somewhere. Or you get in that big red truck and go to the fire or other emergency.

But despite the frequency, the emergency services community in the United States is woefully under trained and frankly inexperienced in the operation of the vehicles we are charged with operating safely.

A fast glance at any of the line-of-duty death statistics shows that more than a few U.S. responders die as a direct result of the operations of a vehicle — and that does not even account for those killed while operating on the highway, which I'll tackle in another column in the future. Recently I went to the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program home page at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/ and quickly found 63 reports of LODDs (some were multiple deaths) of emergency services personnel as a result of vehicle crashes.

Many of these would have been 100 percent preventable by either changing a behavior or something equally as simple. One of the number one ways you can help to prevent becoming an LODD yourself is to wear your seat belt on every call in every situation, period. As the father of four kids who have never ridden in a car without a seat belt, I can’t fathom riding in a car sans belting up, yet I am guilty of doing it on fire trucks and ambulances as well as my command car on responses. What was I thinking? The EMS community has been touting the positive benefits of wearing a seat belt during transport for the past 20 years. But year in, year out fire and EMS folks get ejected from vehicles while responding for the want of wearing a seat belt.

Then you have the failure to control a vehicle at a stop sign or red light. Why on God’s green earth would you do so? STOP means STOP, no excuses, not even if your state law allows it when you operate an emergency vehicle, which is in itself stupid.

So, you’re wearing your seat belt and you're stopping at all controlled intersections and the like, — let’s talk about that demon called speed.

It’s not uncommon to see an emergency vehicle “running hot” on the roadway, driving well above any posted speed limit even when the weather is bad. Well, first of all, posted speed limits are based on optimal road conditions. More importantly, I have never seen a study say that getting to a scene five seconds faster ever helped in the success of a response. And if you wreck, you won't make the job anyway – and don't forget the additional injures it will cause, doubling your department's resources in having to respond to both calls. In this instance, you are no longer part of the solution — you are part of the PROBLEM.

I guess I missed that class in the Academy where we are supposed to mess things up worse and not fix things?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Does your agency enforce a no tolerance seat belt usage policy?
  • Do you also enforce a stop at all control devices rule?
  • Do you allow exceeding the posted speed limit or the speed appropriate for the road conditions?

If you did not answer yes, yes and no, you are not doing your part to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. If you did, that’s only a start.

Essentially, each of us can save lives and each of us can take lives. Which would you rather be known for?

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