Why fire truck dash cams improve safety

For the company officer, having a dashcam in the rig can provide proof of wrongdoing, serve as a training tool and change driver behavior

Mention video recording and fire department in the same sentence and I venture to say that most reactions will be something like, "What happened now?"

The video technology available on today's mobile devices together with social media has given the masses the tools to broadcast anything, anytime, anywhere. Unfortunately, the social media posts showing firefighters and officers engaged in bad behavior or poor judgment far outnumber those showing firefighters doing good deeds.

So why would a fire department want to put its own video camera on the dashboard of its fire apparatus? Curt Varone, retired fire chief, long-time lawyer and author wrote on the topic in his "FireLaw" blog in October 2010.

"… I am in favor of dashcams for several reasons. First, they document what happened. For better or for worse, they serve as objective evidence about such matters as: what color was the light, was the apparatus being operated responsibly, and was the other driver not paying attention (a pet peeve).

Second, dashcams force firefighters to recognize something they should already be assuming: they are being videotaped… On virtually every response we go on, someone can be seen taking photos or video of the apparatus as it passes by. Traffic cams and security videos are everywhere...

Third, the knowledge that people are being videotaped changes people's behavior…. usually for the better. I was in a law enforcement class today watching the Rodney King beating video and the inescapable conclusion one gets from analyzing the video is that the officers involved had no clue that their outrageous behavior was being filmed. In fact, had the officers been aware their misdeeds were being recorded, the entire episode may never have occurred..."

A training tool

The savvy company officer will recognize inward-facing dashcam recordings as more than just a shield against potential legal liability. Those recordings can provide real-time objective feedback to both the firefighter and the company officer.

For one, they can show driver performance while operating the vehicle. It's one thing to have your company officer tell you that you don't keep both hands on the wheel or you're not keeping your eyes on the road ahead of you. It's quite another to see yourself doing it.

Next, there's the interaction between the driver and the officer while responding to emergencies. The officer can use dashcam video and audio to sit down with their firefighters and discuss what worked well and where they can make improvements in their interaction during emergency response.

Last, they can learn by watching. Your up-and-coming drivers don't have to wait until they're behind the wheel to start learning.

Dashcam videos showing your incumbent drivers doing it right can be great tools for giving those newer folks the right mental picture of what good job performance behind the wheel looks like. It also allows the officer to further set the expectation for proper driving before giving them the keys to 30 tons of vehicle, personnel and equipment for the first time.

Monitoring device

With mobile video recording devices getting smaller and more durable, fire departments can leverage the positive aspects of video recording both inside and outside of the apparatus cab.

Your driver is already working on camera, but what about the folks riding in the crew cab? Unless you have eyes in the back of your head, you really don't know what's going on in the back seats. Video allows the officer to answer a few important questions.

  • Had everyone properly donned all components of their structural firefighting protective ensemble before boarding the apparatus?
  • Was everyone seated and belted whenever the vehicle was in motion?
  • How were the firefighters preparing themselves for operations once the crew arrived at the scene?

The officer is responsible for ensuring safety from the time of the alarm until everyone's safely back in quarters, right? Video recordings can provide the officer with good objective feedback that they can discuss with their firefighters regarding compliance with departmental SOGs during response.

Mount a device with a clear view of the pumper's operations panel or turntable on an aerial device and you can capture real-time video of how your firefighters conduct their business in those operational roles.

This is a great feedback tool for the company to use with their incumbent driver/operators to help them keep their skills sharp. It's also equally good material for showing your future pumper and aerial operators what good job performance looks like in the real world.

So bring video recording technology on board with you and your crew to improve your crew's training and safety. 

This article, originally published June 16, 2015, has been updated

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