COLUMN: Les Karpluk — Jan. 29, 2014

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Les Karpluk
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Local firefighters are shown practicing their skills on a vehicle. With one-third of firefighter fatalities coming on the road in their vehicles, they are also improving their driving.

Every year I review the NFPA published document on firefighter line of duty deaths (LODD) in the United States. There is always a lesson to be learned from these tragic events, and my intent is to understand what caused the loss of life for a firefighter and to look for ways to implement a risk reduction strategy that will protect our firefighters and the citizens of Prince Albert.

The NFPA identified that 30 per cent of the line of duty deaths for firefighters in 2012 were a result of responding to or returning from an alarm. While I read through the latest report it was disturbing to read that many of the firefighters killed in fire apparatus accidents were not wearing their seat belts and in one case driver distraction and inexperience was a factor in one of the fatal accidents.

There’s more; a study was conducted in 2008 that found that 82 per cent of the fire departments surveyed identified that they had experienced some type of crash while responding to an incident when using lights and sirens. I was not able to determine the survey sample size, but regardless of the size, the fire service and any emergency service organization responding with lights and sirens must be aware of the risks involved. 

An accident involving any fire vehicle can cause significant legal ramifications to the City with potential financial impact. I mentioned in a previous column that we have a Safety Management Program (SMP) that is intended address the hazardous nature of the job and to align ourselves with the changes in the fire service. To minimize the potential for accidents, our Safety Management Program requires a recruit firefighter to have a minimum of 30 hours of logged driver training. One exception to this rule being the recruit who is a professional truck driver and has extensive experience behind the wheel of a semi-truck.

During the 12-month probationary period the firefighter is required to go through specific driving evolutions for the pumper, tanker and ladder truck. These driving evolutions are intended to meet the Driver/Operator requirements of NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety & Health Program standard.

There are also requirements in NFPA 1451, Standard for a Fire and Emergency Service Vehicle Operations Training Program that requires the fire department to evaluate the effectiveness of its vehicle-training program every three years. Additionally, there are specific requisite driver skills (job performance requirements) identified in NFPA 1002 Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications that we schedule during the year. The goal is to practice due diligence in order to reduce the potential for vehicle accidents.

In 2014 we intend to:

• Review our existing driver/operator policies and procedures,

• Identify the parameters of a true emergency (determine how we can down grade some response codes from lights and sirens to normal driving conditions),

• Review procedures from larger departments,

• Identify the technology available and the costs for preemption devices (traffic control device that turns the traffic light green for responding vehicles), and

• Review our department driver/operator training.

Safety of the public and our firefighters is our first priority. In order to reduce corporate liability and the dangers of responding to incidents with lights and sirens we need to take the steps necessary to reduce the probability of a fire vehicle accident. It’s very simple; we want to arrive safely so we can do our job.

 

Les Karpluk is the chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department

Organizations: NFPA 1002 Standard for Fire Apparatus Driver, Fire and Emergency Service Vehicle, Professional Qualifications Prince Albert Fire Department

Geographic location: United States, Prince Albert

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