Code-3 Response Safety
Captain Jeff Draper
Ever since 1648, when the first fire organization was founded in America, and in 1819 with the advent of the first steam engine fire apparatus (1679-first fire vehicle), we have looked for ways to learn from mishaps and make things safer. Of course as time goes on, things improve and change along with it. Building construction and vehicles are an ever changing venue. Thus, the fire departments of the world are in a constant uphill battle to stay on top of things and learn these changes and how fire and collisions will affect them. Obviously, vehicles have come a long way since the early days, but no matter how safe a vehicle is, it is still reliant on the operator and other drivers to maintain that safety barrier. It seems there have been a large number of LODD’s this year. A good amount of them were vehicle collision related.
In this day of airbags, enhanced spring-loaded retracting seat belts, anti-lock brakes and so on, we still seem to lose way too many personnel. The majority of these are either operator error, or collisions with other traffic. It seems that EVOC and related training has fallen by the wayside in many departments. In my earlier years, we had to pass an EVOC class put on in coordination with DPS (Highway Patrol), and be certified to drive code-3. This test included the coned off course, wet skid pad, backing, parking, etc. It seems now that most departments will allow you to drive if you are able to drive the truck. Some do minimal driving tests or checks under an Officer. Some do nothing, and whoever gets to the truck first drives it to the scene.
Emergency response is a very serious responsibility, and should not be taken lightly. As has been discussed on this site in the past, if you are driving code-3 and have a collision, it is your fault. Period. Any Attorney worth his salt will hang you out to dry 9 times out of 10. I have seen very few cases where a fire apparatus was involved in a collision that killed a civilian, and they were cleared of any wrong doing. This goes for POV’s as well, if not more so. In most states, they have laws covering emergency response, and they even state that traffic is to pull to the right and stop. (some states seem to have an altered version of this). However, when it comes down to it, there is a double standard that says you are only requesting the right of way, and not automatically given it.
I know how frustrating it is to respond in heavy traffic, especially at intersections. People are driving while talking on the phone, have their stereos booming, windows up and air on, and possibly don’t here or see you until you are on top of them. Sad as this is, it is an obstacle we must face. Many drivers will also flat out see you, but decide they are in a bigger hurry or on a more important mission than you, and will do whatever they can to get as far down the road and maybe turn off, or go ahead and go through the light before yielding to you, to avoid or shorten any delays they may be caused. I have seen elderly people simply freeze up and stop dead in front of the unit, or ignore it as if it wasn’t there. Amazing as this is, it happens daily.
Then you have the children who, while may be future firefighters due to the interest, will run out to the curb to watch you go by. When faced with a flashing school zone that you need to respond through, I was always told that if the zone is 20 mph, you better go 15, and maybe even turn off your siren. While this safety factor of reduced speed is a positive, we now mostly have standards of having the siren on if the lights are on. The reduced speed is a very good idea due to child traffic on foot and bicycles. If you hit anyone while in a school zone, and are speeding at all, you are toast. Even if nothing happens, it will generate calls from angry parents.
We have also seen many videos on this site concerning apparatus busting intersections, and some of the comments, while mostly from inexperienced and non involved people, have been scary to say the least. I think most of us know that when encountering an intersection, and your light is red, you had better come to a stop and verify that all vehicles in the area or approaching, are seeing you and stopping. If the light is green, it is still best to slow way down and make the same verification. Rolling through a green light at speed, or a red one without stopping or almost stopping, depending on the scenario, is insane and you will eventually face a very ugly situation that could cost you your career, cost someone their life, and even worse, witness an innocent death caused by your action. It only takes a few seconds to do it right, and the result is well worth the delay.
Some newer personnel face the siren factor, where the siren pumps you up, and you soon are flying down the road faster than you should be, and feeling bulletproof as though everyone should hear you and get the hell out of your way. This is usually overcome with experience, and hopefully not tragedy. Check yourself on it constantly. Of course, weather, construction, and many other variables come into play also. The bottom line is, be safe, ALWAYS wear seatbelts, and stay calm. Tailboarders trying to donn their SCBA’s in the rear seats should do so quickly, and then put that seatbelt back on as best as you can.
Drivers should do nothing but drive, and Officers should handle the radio and siren operations while running. This is all common sense, but sometimes, especially in volunteer departments, doesn’t happen. Due to inexperience, lack of personnel, whatever. Radio response from someone can wait a minute until you are in a safe spot to answer it, and the siren should only go from wail to yelp when needed. The phaser is great, but only good for close proximity. The Q and air horns are great, but should be used with discretion when applicable. I have seen many videos and real life occurrences of these being abused. The air horn runs off the same air system as the brakes. Don’t drain it by misuse. The Q is good for intersections, not constant use, and not standing on the switch keeping it wound up. Cycle it !
All in all, staying calm and using common sense will usually save your butt, and maintain a good reputation with the community. Stay safe.