NIOSH report details Ga. firefighter-medic rollover LODD

Investigation inconclusive if seat belt was worn during '09 ambulance collision

By Erin Hicks
EMS1 Associate Editor

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. — Failure of the motorist to yield the right-of-way to an approaching emergency vehicle was a key factor in the death of a Georgia firefighter-paramedic ejected during a rollover, according to investigators.

Firefighter-medic Paul Holmes, of Douglas County Fire/EMS, died on December 28 last year when he and his partner, Firefighter/EMT Daniel Young, were responding to a vehicle fire with injuries.

Photo NIOSHDamage can be seen to the front of the ambulance after the crash

Damage can be seen to the front of the ambulance after the crash

Their ambulance collided with a car while trying to change lanes, according to a NIOSH firefighter fatality report released Wednesday. The ambulance overturned, ejecting Firefighter-medic Holmes from the passenger's seat.

Firefighter-medic Holmes was conscious where he landed 10 feet behind the ambulance, and was airlifted by helicopter to a local trauma center where he died two days later. The cause of his death was listed by the medical examiner as due to blunt force traumatic injuries to the head.

Firefighter-medic Holmes' partner had minor injuries, and the driver of the other vehicle was transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

NIOSH recommends states and authorities having jurisdiction should take steps to ensure that motorists are aware of, understand, and follow state traffic codes/laws pertaining to yielding the right-of-way to approaching, authorized emergency vehicles with lights and sirens on.

"During this incident, the ambulance was overtaking the POV in the left lane after the driver of the ambulance believed that the motorist was pulling to the right side of the road after slowing down," the report said.

"The ambulance driver had only seconds to react when the motorist turned the POV into the left lane. Although not believed to be a contributing factor, motorists should consider that motor vehicle codes vary from state to state on areas such as how a motorist should behave when a responding emergency vehicle is approaching them."

Though the State of Georgia Traffic Crash Report listed Firefighter-medic Holmes' use of a seat belt as undetermined, Firefighter/EMT Young told NIOSH investigators his partner always wore his seat belt when they worked together, and he believes that night was no different.

The collision occurred just before a T-intersection where the roadway was unlit and had a posted speed limit of 45 mph.

The ambulance, which was responding with lights and siren activated, was traveling between 50-55 mph at the time of the collision, according to Firefighter/EMT Young.  

In the wake of the investigation, and damage caused to the ambulance, NIOSH said departments should develop standards and implement policies to reduce the likelihood of material and equipment from becoming projectiles during crash events.

"Although there is no evidence that the following recommendation would have prevented this fatality, it is being provided based on inspection of the ambulance patient compartment, which showed the potential for injuries if a patient or attendant had been in the patient compartment," the report said.

In addition, investigators said while it was undetermined whether the victim was wearing his seat belt, they recommend that departments should take steps to ensure that seat belts are properly worn at all times.

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