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The Domino Effect
by Mark van der Feyst

Handicap firefighting: Driving too fast can slow response

Trying too hard to reduce response time can actually increase it as well as the magnitude of the emergency

By Mark van der Feyst

When responding to a call for help, time is our greatest enemy. Our response time is measured right from moment we receive of the call for help to when we actually arrive on scene.

Shaving precious seconds off our response time has always been a priority in the fire service; it can influence the overall outcome for the person(s) that need our help.

Driving is one area closely tied with trying to save time. It's a tradition that we respond in quick fashion by driving fast to the scene to begin operations. The thinking goes: the faster we get there, the quicker we can intervene.

Speed can slow response
But our speed can sometimes be our handicap on the fireground, as we can see from just one example in this video. This video was taken by a resident in a Queensland, Australia neighborhood where a structure fire was occurring. In it, we can pick out a few key dominos that had one or more fallen would have handicapped that fire department.


As the video unfolds, we see people starting to gather around the house watching in curiosity. This is normal behavior for residents; they want to see how an event will unfold.

The house in the video is the first on that street, making the stopping distance very short. The house is also located at a four-way intersection where a yellow cement truck is stopped and other traffic is coming in the opposite direction of the fire truck.

When the first fire apparatus arrives on scene, the driver makes a very quick, sharp turn and stops right at the front of the house.

When the second truck arrives, its driver also makes a very quick, sharp turn and must react quickly to avoid hitting the first truck. That driver had to over-steer the apparatus, causing it to briefly ride on two wheels. 

Spectator safety
The call was during the daytime when you expect there to be a lot of people out and about on the streets as well as on the sidewalk.

The people standing in the street are right in the travel path of where the fire trucks would be arriving and gathered on both street corners. There are also parked cars on the one side, decreasing the accessibility space.

This event could have been a disaster if the timing or driver reactions had been different.

The second truck arrived only two seconds after the first one arrived. This means that the second truck was following too close to the first, which required the driver to swerve to avoid a collision.

A fire truck of that size travelling less than 40 mph should have a minimum 4-second safety cushion between the vehicle it is following. If going more than 40 mph, it should have a minimum 5-second cushion of safety.

When the second fire truck drove on two wheels, it could have flipped, very easily hitting the first truck, rendering both units out of service. Or, it could have hit or rolled onto a few pedestrians, causing serious injuries or even death.

As quickly as we need to get to the call, we can become ineffective if our driving methods hinder our arrival. Slowing down can sometimes be the best option. It will ensure our safe arrival, the safety of others gathered around the scene, and that we can render aid to those needing our help.
 

About the author

Mark van der Feyst is a 13-year veteran of the fire service. He currently works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He also a Local Level Suppression Instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. You can contact Mark with feedback at Mark.vanderfeyst@firerescue1.com.



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