Apparatus safety: Where we're going wrong

The real problem when it comes to making firefighter responses safer seems to be at the local level

Why in this day and age is the fire service still experiencing serious accidents involving fire apparatus? I thought enough was being done to address the needless and careless types of behavior that can lead to these kinds of incidents. Unfortunately it seems that I am wrong.

While we all know that responding, operating at and returning from the scene of alarms presents a certain level of danger, this is easily the most preventable area of accidents but it continues to plague the fire service.

A great deal has been done by the fire apparatus manufacturers to make fire trucks safer now than in the past. Along with the new edition of NFPA 1901, just about every conceivable area is covered.

The real problem seems to be at the local level. Are we still complacent about wearing seat belts? Is the person who rides in the officer position making sure that everyone is belted before the apparatus moves? Is the driver adequately trained to operate the vehicle in question? Are the department's vehicles adequately maintained?

I don't mean fixing something when it is broke — are manufacturers' specs being followed for regular maintenance and proper maintenance records kept? Are qualified EVTs used for the repair of your vehicles?

Is proper training of all of your apparatus drivers being performed? Does your state require CDLs for your drivers, or do you still rely on senior members training the newbies? If this is the case, you better change your methods and maybe contact the local county or state to provide your people with adequate driver training and keep your training records handy.

You may also want to contact your insurance carrier to see what they provide. If you are insured by VFIS or ESIP, both provide excellent training and materials that may help you out.

Creating SOPs to handle all of the above might be the best thing you can do as a start. But SOPs are only as good as the people who follow them. It has to start from the top down. Chief officers and line officers must set an example by following department SOPs themselves.

We are beginning to see a great number of fire departments across the country change their response methods whether they be small urban and rural departments to the FDNY, which just announced their new policy last month.

For those of you who don't understand, it simply means that lights and sirens are only used on true emergencies such as a report of a fire or a life-threatening event. Responding to a water leak, wires down (not on a vehicle or person trapped) and a flooding condition all warrant emergency vehicles to slow down.

You would have to decide if this works best for your department and develop guidelines that everyone has to be on the same page with.
There are a lot of sample SOPs on the Internet. Just do a search and you will find a great deal of info that you can adapt for your department's use.

Follow these rules as a start:

  • Remember to make sure everyone is seated and belted before the apparatus leaves the fire station responding to an alarm.
  • STOP at all negative right of ways (stop signs, red lights).
  • Adjust your speed based on driving conditions.
  • Watch out for others.
  • Always use a backer when you put a vehicle in reverse.
  • Make sure your drivers are adequately trained in driving and operating the certain types of apparatus that you respond with.
  • All apparatus should be properly maintained with records kept.
  • Develop SOPs for modified response.

While these rules are not a cure all for apparatus accidents, it certainly won't hurt to use them if you're not already.

About the author

The Apparatus Bay is a column section devoted to the fire truck industry, vehicle safety and the latest technology and vehicles. Articles are written by experts from across the industry. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered, or you are interested in writing for The Apparatus Bay, email

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