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Fire Apparatus Safety Programs and Fleet Purchasing Considerations

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By Leischen Stelter, editor of In Public Safety

Preventing emergency vehicle accidents should be a high priority for fire chiefs and department leaders. “These accidents are a big deal because they happen on a regular basis,” said Bill Jenaway, who was a fire chief for 25 of his 45 years in the fire service and EMS.

Dr. William F. Jenaway_IPS
Bill Jenaway, who was a fire chief for 25 of his 45-year career, will present a webinar on fire apparatus safety.

The occurrence of emergency vehicle accidents is surprisingly high, with well over 10,000 incidents a year in the United States. “Incidents range from simple things such as not having a spotter when the vehicle is backing up to more serious accidents when drivers go through intersections without having clear control of the intersection,” said Jenaway, who is currently the Vice President of VFIS.

Jenaway will present a webinar on Fire Apparatus Safety in collaboration with American Military University. To attend the webinar, register to receive notifications of upcoming webinars. Or check out upcoming webinars as part AMU’s Emergency Services Webinar Series.

To prevent accidents, fire chiefs must stress the importance of vehicle safety down the ranks. “Officers must understand that they are responsible for the vehicle and must make sure that that vehicle is operated safely,” he said.

The Costs of Accidents
The costs associated with apparatus incidents are extremely high. Of course, there is the potential for personnel injury or death, which is devastating to a department. In addition, there are significant financial impacts stemming from the damage to the vehicle and the potential loss of that vehicle as a resource to protect the community. Such an incident could cause significant damage to a department’s reputation and public image, which can also be costly, said Jenaway.

During the webinar, Jenaway will discuss 10 best practices in emergency vehicle safety. Some of these practices include:

  • Improving personnel responsibility and accountability
  • Enhanced training for drivers and firefighters
  • Apparatus design and construction
  • Methods for managing driving behavior

In the last 20 years, agencies have done a better job of designing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to incorporate best practices associated with driver selection and training in an effort to reduce accidents. But it is still up to chiefs to actively monitor and supervise driving behaviors. Chiefs should establish a comprehensive fleet development and safety program. Selecting the safest and most appropriate vehicle to meet departmental needs is an important component of this program as well.

What to Consider When Selecting a Vehicle
Vehicle selection is very dependent on the needs of the community as well as the topography. Fire chiefs must consider what the primary purpose and functional needs are for the vehicle. For example, larger vehicles may be inhibited from adequately climbing steep grades or maneuvering around narrow streets. If a community has lots of narrow apartment complexes, for example, the vehicle should be able to easily maneuver through those areas.

Purchasing a vehicle is a major decision and there cannot be enough research done to evaluate different vehicles and features. Jenaway recommends contacting departments that have similar vehicles and getting their feedback. He advises making efforts to test drive vehicles to ensure they meet the needs of the department. It is also a good idea to attend trade shows so agency leaders can evaluate multiple manufacturers at once.

Jenaway emphasized that the biggest mistake a department can make when selecting a vehicle is making assumptions. “You can’t assume anything during the design process,” he said. “As the chief, ensure those charged with selecting the vehicle has a system in place to double check all their facts and information. Assumptions can be costly.”

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