NIOSH: Va. ejection LODDs show need for seat belts

Both firefighters died as a result of injuries from being ejected; the fire department had no written SOP requiring seat belts


ROCKY MOUNT, Va. — The use of seat belts and extreme caution while crossing intersections are emphasized in a report into the deaths of two Virginia firefighters who were killed in a fire truck crash.

Rocky Mount Fire Chief Posey Dillon and Firefighter William Daniel "Danny" Altice died in the wreck after their apparatus was struck by a SUV while responding to a call on July 26 last year.

Both firefighters died as a result of injuries from being ejected, according to a medical examiner, and would have had a greater chance of survival if they had been wearing seat belts.

NIOSH photoThe apparatus is seen after the incident, with the top portion crushed.
NIOSH photoThe apparatus is seen after the incident, with the top portion crushed.

"The fire department involved in this incident had a verbal policy that required all firefighters to use their seat belts but did not have a written standard operating procedure (SOP) requiring the use of seat belts," the NIOSH report said.

As a result of the deaths, NIOSH is encouraging fire departments to develop, train upon, and strictly enforce SOPs on the use of seat belts, to prevent similar incidents.

Because the SUV involved in the incident was proceeding through a green light, investigators also recommend fire departments account for all lanes of traffic before proceeding through an intersection.

The report also suggests fire departments consider upgrading older fire apparatus in accordance with NFPA 1912 Standard for Fire Apparatus Refurbishing and retire or replace older apparatus in accordance with current standards, since the fire truck involved was built in 1988.

"Significant improvements in fire apparatus safety have been the standard since 1991, and fire departments should consider the value (or risk) to firefighters of keeping pre-1991 fire apparatus in first-line service," the report said.

"Apparatus manufactured prior to 1991 usually conformed to only a few of the safety standards for fire apparatus set by the NFPA."

Investigators say the crash also shows that a rollover protection system should also be considered during upgrades, since the roof of the cab was crushed down significantly.

NIOSH also recommends states, municipalities, and authorities having jurisdiction:

  • Take steps to ensure that motorists are aware of, understand, and follow state traffic codes/laws pertaining to yielding the right-of-way to approaching, authorized emergency vehicles using audible and visual signals.
  • Consider the use of intersection control devices on emergency vehicles and selected traffic lights.

In addition, investigators say fire apparatus manufacturers, researchers, and standard setting bodies should:

  • Continue to improve fire apparatus safety standards and designs for increased crashworthiness of compartments for firefighter survivability in rollover crashes.
  • Continue to evaluate apparatus seating and seat belt design to ensure that riding positions and seat belts are comfortable and effective for firefighters wearing personal protective equipment.

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