'Just Click it Together'

By Richard C. Maddox

Why are firefighters still responding to and from calls without seat belts, and why are fire departments still allowing this practice? 

More than 25 firefighters were killed last year responding to or returning from alarms, many of whom were not wearing seat belts. That's 25 fathers, mothers, sons or daughters.

How many families have been torn apart because we will not comply and wear the seat belt that is designed to keep our backsides in the seats? Why do we think that by doing the same behavior over again and again we would get different results?

I recently heard a presentation from Virginia Lutz of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) about its investigation program of firefighter deaths.

Although many things that she said at the FDSOA's annual conference I had already heard at other events, one account really struck me.

She said once while visiting her grandson, he asked why she was so sad. She told him she had just finished investigating a death of a firefighter who had been killed while responding to a call. The firefighter had been thrown out of the fire apparatus and he died.

The grandson asked, "Did the fireman have his seat belt on grandma?" She told him he didn't. Her grandson, who happened to be just 5 or 6 years old, asked why not. "It is easy," he said, "just click it together."  Out of the mouths of babes comes the truth: "It is easy – just click it together."

Stiff penalties
Most of us would never think not to wear our seat belt while driving our personal vehicles because most states have stringent seatbelt laws that have stiff penalties for failure to comply.

I call on everyone to take action; firefighters should demand that everyone on their crew wear their seat belts. If you are wearing your seat belt but your crew mate is not, you're probably going to suffer severe injuries from them bouncing around the cab if the apparatus is involved in an accident.

Nothing works better then peer pressure, especially in the fire station. Company officers must make it known that they expect everyone to ride belted at all times. And, they should lead by example by wearing it themselves.

Chiefs should develop and enforce a seat belt policy for their departments, to lead the way. When purchasing new apparatus, they should ensure that safety devices are user friendly and are properly maintained, while older apparatus are checked and maintained on a regular basis.

I urge our fire service leaders and friends in government to change the current state laws to require seat belt use in all emergency vehicles at all times. If we all work together on this problem we may prevent 25 families from going through the pain of burying a loved one next year.

Finally, take the National Seat Belt Pledge. Remember, "It's easy – just click it together." Stay safe.  

Richard C. Maddox is the vice chairman of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association. He is a certified fire suppression incident scene safety officer and a health and safety officer. He has served with the Sayville, New York Fire Department for the past 32 years and is currently the department's health and safety officer and chairperson of its health and safety committee. He is the FDSOA current representative to the NFPA 1720 Technical Committee. Mr. Maddox holds an associate's degree in applied sciences, a bachelor's degree in health care administration and a master's degree in public administration. He is employed by the New York State Office of Mental Health as a clinical risk management specialist. He can be reached at Safetysfd@aol.com

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