Usually this time of year when the preliminary line of duty death statistics are released for the previous year it is a time of great sadness as more firefighters have died that year than the previous year. But this year the news is good according to the United States Fire Administration 93 firefighters died in the line of duty in 2009. This is the first year that we have gone below 100 line of duty deaths in several years and 93 deaths represents one of the lowest death rates for a single year since records started to be kept back in 1977. Many people in the fire service work tirelessly to reduce fire fighter fatalities and promote firefighters safety it would appear that the hard work you have all done is paying off. Although it is a significant reduction in line of duty deaths it is only one year and one year is not a trend but rather a good start.
How did we die in 2009, based on previous years there is no surprise here the first category is , heart attacks / stress which accounted for 58.06% or 54 Line of duty deaths. Second are Vehicle Accidents, either POV’s (Personally Operated Vehicles) or Fire Apparatus which resulted in 14 line of duty deaths or 15.05% which is 5 less deaths than 2008. So although we have made progress we still have a ways to go.
Often we are asked questions and one such question that seems to pop up quite frequently is: What do you think of on board camera’s (Drive Cams)? Many firefighters feel that it is big brother watching and find Drive Cams intrusive. In Penn Township, Pennsylvania an Emergency Medical Technician involved in a fatal ambulance crash captured on a Dash Cam video was found not guilty of vehicular homicide.
The ambulance ran a red light and struck another vehicle, killing the driver of that other vehicle in October of 2006. Jurors in the case were asked to decide whether it was a “reckless, negligent act” according to a local television station. The jurors found otherwise, however the ambulance driver was found guilty of careless driving and failure to obey a traffic control device they were both summary accounts and fines were assess in the amount of $200 and $25 respectively.
During the trial, jurors were shown two videotapes recorded from the ambulance Dash Cam that showed the moments before and during the collision according to published reports.
The first video showed the ambulance driving through the red light, while the second recorded the driver looking at the roadway.
The defense lawyer said that the video proved the ambulance driver was not trying to deliberately beat or run the red light. Having taken a Patient to the hospital, the ambulance was returning to its base when the crash occurred.
In Houston Texas the Houston City Council approved a $225,000.00 settlement to be paid to the family of Leigh Boone a Houston bicyclist killed in a crash between two fire trucks last year (See Firehouse Emergency Vehicle Operations Racing to Death). As you may recall a Houston Fire Department Engine and Ladder Collided at an intersection equipped with a pre-emption system and the Ladder flipped over and landed on Leigh Boone as she waited on the street corner with her bike. She was seriously injured and subsequently died two weeks later from those injuries. The family also sought action on preventing future accidents such as the one that killed their daughter.
There has been more fallout from the 2009, Boston apparatus crash that killed Lt. Kevin Kelly from Ladder Company 26. A detailed police report from a recent investigation of the accident concludes that a Fire Department contractor installed the wrong parts on the ladder truck’s brakes several months before the crash. The contractor replaced a brake chamber and brake pads on Ladder 26 with “unsuitable” parts in the spring of 2008, which the police report stated decreased stopping power significantly. A few months later, when firefighters working on the truck noticed the brakes not working properly, they made manual adjustments to the automatic slack adjusters that may have masked underlying problems. Based on this information (NIOSH) the National Insitute for Occupantional Safety and Health issued a Safety Advisory in October 2009, entitled Manual Adjustment of Automatic Slack Adjusters May contribute to Unexpected Brake Failure on Automotive Fire Apparatus.
NIOSH recommends that all fire departments operating fire apparatus equipped with automatic slack adjusters immediately take the following actions to reduce the risk of firefighters being injured in an apparatus crash due to brake failure.
Ensure that automatic slack adjusters are never manually adjusted.
Establish procedures to ensure maintenance on fire apparatus is conducted as recommended in NFPA 1911 Standard for the Inspection, Maintenance, Testing, and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus.
Ensure maintenance is only performed by qualified technicians who meet NFPA 1071 Standard for Emergency Vehicle Technician Professional Qualifications.
Finally in the last several months of doing Emergency Vehicle Operations Classes and appearances another question keeps popping; up I have not had an Emergency Vehicle Driving Course since 1972 do I need to take one now or should I take another one now? The answer to this question was probably best said by note fire service attorney Neil Rossman in an article that he wrote back in 1994 entitled Avoiding an Apparatus-Related Lawsuit. Mr. Rossman wrote that Fire Department members who take and successfully complete an apparatus driver’s safety course should be certified for such duty and should have to recertify on a regular basis, every three years not being unreasonable. Mr. Rossman goes on to say that “this operator’s safety course should include classroom work with an instructor well versed in apparatus safety.” In New York State there is a defensive driver’s course offered for civilian drivers that can reduce insurance costs and for license point reduction. That needs to be taken every three years to maintain the insurance reduction. So the answer to question is that each fire department and each driver in that fire department should take and complete a full Emergency Vehicle Operators Course offered by someone from outside the department every three years .
By Michael Wilbur