Ill. fire chief's road death is a tragic lesson learned

Until emergency responders learn to assess the risk and benefits of helicopter response and working on the highway, tragic incidents like this will be repeated

A fire chief is dead. Run over by one of his own fire trucks that was moving to close a road for landing a helicopter. I am dumbstruck that the helicopter was landing because "a man there was suffering from an apparent broken leg from the fall of a tree limb.

Many questions that need to be answered

Of course we don't and probably won’t know everything that happened on this scene. Nonetheless, the reported facts are disturbing and should cause all of us to ask important questions.

Report: A fire chief was run over and killed by his own fire truck.

My questions: Where was the spotter for that truck? Was the spotter in voice and visual contact with the driver? Was the driver trained on the apparatus?

Report: A helicopter was preparing to land for a man that had an apparent broken leg.

My questions: Did the patient's broken leg truly require a helicopter transport? Did the patient meet criteria for major trauma and flight to a level 1 or 2 trauma center? What level of care was on the scene? How far was the nearest hospital?

Report: A road was being closed to land a helicopter in the middle of the afternoon.

My questions: Was there not any pre-planned landing zones – parking lot, ball field, airport – available for an ambulance to helicopter patient hand-off that would not require closing a road? How busy was this road? Was the likelihood of a secondary collision considered when the landing zone was picked?

Failure to assess risk and benefit of actions

This event is another reminder that EMS professionals continue to significantly under assess the risk of working on or near roads and moving vehicles while also significantly over assessing the value of a helicopter transport.

I grieve for the chief's friends, family, and firefighters. They have suffered an incredible loss. Our learning from this tragic incident and application of those lessons should not wait until their grieving has ended.

You will soon find yourself in similar situations – working on the roadside or considering a helicopter. Risks must always be countered by the benefits and the actual risk of roadside work and helicopter transport is way greater than the perceived risk. 

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