As I write this month's article, I am simply awestruck by the number of emergency vehicle accidents that have occurred in North America in December.
I state that with some trepidation, as there are still a few days left. But even if no more "accidents" happen between now and then, it's been a deadly month for both firefighters and civilians alike.
December has seen at least 16 crashes involving fire and EMS apparatus, leading to death and costly injury. This doesn't include the emotional damage, lost wages and pain and suffering to those involved, their loved ones and those in their firehouse.
And although it pales in comparison, there is also damage to the image of firefighting in many of these cases.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's "Everyone Goes Home" program supports many different efforts; not least among them is the use of seat belts.
On their website, you can find the video story of a personal friend of mine, Chief Eddie DiMartino. Please take a look. In summary, he was responding to an emergency call in inclement weather when his personal vehicle went off the roadway and flipped over. He was not wearing a seat belt and there was no airbag deployment. His recovery and rehabilitation lasted for many months.
What I can tell you is that Eddie, his family and his department have been forever changed by what he will admit was a decision he should have made differently. The use of seat belts is so easy, yet too many of us simply aren't wearing them.
In New York State, several fire service organizations have gotten together to support legislation to remove the seat belt exemption provided to the fire service. We no longer need an exemption; we need the support to simply wear our seat belts.
There are so many statements and phrases that have been used so often within the fire service that they seem worn out by now. "If you don't arrive safely, you can't do any good." "Slow down, save a life."
Although we need to keep saying these things, we also need to support efforts to ENFORCE wearing seat belts and driving reasonably.
There will, unfortunately, always be some crashes. A recent incident in Louisville where a woman was in such a rush to get to work that she hit a fire engine is a good example that sometimes, despite our best efforts, crashes will happen.
But what we can avoid, we must avoid.
The question is, as always, what can I, the lowly firefighter, lone officer, lonelier chief, do to create change.
If you're a firefighter, help your officers out -- get your seat belt on and don't make them ask. If they need to turn around and tell your partner to buckle up, back them up.
For line officers, speak up. Take the time to turn around and remind them, look to make sure they are on. I know you'll find this hard to believe, but sometimes firefighters can try to sneak around safety rules. No, it's true ...!
Always being the mother is a bore, I know, but it's a lot easier than explaining why you didn't make sure they were buckled up.
And have your chief's back on this. Don't say, "You have to buckle up, the chief said so." We're not doing this for the chief; we're doing it for ourselves.
Here's to a safer 2012, and a quiet close to 2011. And to hearing a lot more "clicking" of seat belts in the coming year.