Thursday, July 4, 2013

Safety is paramount

Last weekend's tragic death of a team of firefighters battling an Arizona wildfire put a lump in my throat. That 19 young firefighters on an elite team with a high degree of training, experience, and skill could be taken is the harshest reminder that risk is ever present, and that there are some factors we can control, and others that we cannot.

A firefighter or police officer can control his or her fitness, attitude, and attention to the practices he or she has learned.  A department can control the training, equipment, policy guidance, and supervision provided. But no one can control the homicidal intentions of another, or the sheer brutality of Mother Nature.

Here, however, is something especially important that we can each control: our own safe driving. While the leading cause of the 82 firefighter deaths in the United States last year was overexertion and stress, the second leading cause was traffic crashes. Of the 120 police officers killed in the line of duty during 2012, the leading cause of death was gunfire, but the second leading cause was vehicular collisions.  All told, 19 firefighters were killed in traffic collisions last year, and 43 police officers. Every day, I walk by the photos of Lincoln police officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty, and most of those fatalities were traffic crashes.

Wear your seat belt religiously. Slow down. Fast driving does not get you to the scene much faster at all, and dramatically increases risk. Avoid the temptation to tap the MDC keyboard or pick up the cell phone while driving; the radio microphone is distracting enough, and the call or query can wait for a stopping place. Take a deep breath when you drive code 3, and practice maintaining a calm focus on the task at hand--getting there safely.  When code driving, always come to a complete stop at red traffic signals, and thoroughly check all lanes--twice--before proceeding. Use your siren continuously on all emergency runs, and do not turn it off until and unless it is absolutely necessary. Wear your high-visibility gear whenever working in or adjacent to the roadway.

These are things we can control personally and individually.  They do not require additional expenditures, they do not depend on others, and they are things we have all been trained to do. They simply require self-discipline.

Have a safe Independence Day.

Firefighter Line of Duty Fatalities, 2012
Source: U.S. Fire Administration

Police Officer Line of Duty Fatalities, 2012

Source: Officer Down Memorial Page


The cheese stands alone said...

I'd argue that 37 is a more accurate number of officers killed in vehicular collisions. Automobile Accidents (21) + Motorcycle Accidents (5) + Struck by Vehicle (6) + Vehicle Pursuit (5) = 37. I don't think you included pursuits, but included vehicular assault. Since these are an intent to harm/kill by someone else, they may be a vehicular collision, but I don't think they fall into the same category as the safety measures you point out that one has control of in your post.

Regardless, all losses are tragic and especially on holidays when firefighters and police officers have to be away from their families, they deserve an extra thank you and prayer for their safety.

Tom Casady said...


I will accept that friendly amendment to my count!

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate your reminders about using due caution while driving, I am also acutely aware that the newer medic units are insanely loud while their sirens are on... particularly at night.

On that note, I would like to ask for your input to the concept of NOT using sirens when responding to calls at night unless in traffic or when approaching intersections where a sigh or signal would be against the intended direction of the medic unit.

I guess to illustrate, can you please tell me why it is necessary to run with the siren on at 3am on a Sunday morning along 84th Street between O and Cornhusker? Wouldn't lights be sufficient unless near other vehicles or approaching a red traffic light? The same could be asked about Hwy 77 or Interstate 80 when in the wee hours, even driving 10 miles an hour above the posted limit, it is rare to see another vehicle for miles.

Mike said...

Anonymous: I'd argue that use of sirens is just as important in sparse traffic. Especially late at night when drivers are more likely to be tired and not on the look out for other drivers due to said sparse traffic.

Anonymous said...


While I agree that the use of sirens are important in sparse traffic, I also believe the very loud sirens at three or four in the morning are not necessary while responding to a call if there is no traffic. The only results they really achieve is waking up residents as they pass by. They use them while in a neighborhood, less than 1/4 block from the scene.

Police use their lights only several times when responding to a call and then sirens when they are approaching a traffic light or when traffic is anything above very light.

Why not use the same principle with medic units or fire equipment during certain hours, like between 2 - 6am?

Anonymous said...

When budget cuts hit a few years ago, one thing that was postponed was our emergency vehicle operator course. I made a pitch that we couldn't afford to *not* have that training and used the ODMP as the reference. Too many one-car deaths.