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Report critical of ambulance, fire truck crashes

Responsible for about one in five of the 829 firefighter fatalities in the past decade, fire truck crashes are more deadly than fighting a fire


WASHINGTON — A recent examination of firefighting data shows that 20 percent of firefighter deaths in the past decade occurred by crashing a fire truck or ambulance en route to or returning from a call.

Crashes account for about one in five of the 829 firefighter fatalities in the past decade making rig crashes more deadly than the dangers associated with fighting a fire. Overexertion or heart stress is the only more frequent cause of death, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

"It’s a nationwide problem," said Vincent Brannigan, emeritus professor of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering, told the Washington Post. "You’ve got a patient in back of an ambulance, and the instinct to go like hell is enormous."

Despite safety improvements in fire trucks, injury and fatality rates “remain essentially unchanged over the last decade,” a 2012 study by the Association of the Advancement of Automotive Medicine found. Risky driving practices, including excessive speed and dangerous passing maneuvers, are contributing factors, experts say. The AAAM study also documented “dangerously low” rates of seat belt use by firefighters.

In counties near Washington, the number of collisions has more than doubled over the past five years, from 72 in 2011 to 152 so far this year, according to the report. The Washington Post report focused on how often firefighters were found at fault in these crashes.

The report said that in Montgomery County, there were 246 incidents with department vehicles this year through Sept. 30. Of those, fire personnel were faulted 133 times. The report doesn't detail the seriousness of those incidents where fault was found or the degree of fault.

Each collision is investigated and reviewed by an internal departmental board. Officials declined to discuss which incidents resulted in disciplinary measures, according to the report.

Montgomery County fire union President Jeff Buddle said the vast majority responders use caution when driving. The accusation that firefighters are driven by heedless bravado is perception not reality.

Firefighters say crashes could be reduced if motorists abided by a "hear us, see us, clear for us" policy.

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