Personnel in the state of Oregon receive hands-on, realistic skid-avoidance training in a safe, controlled environment.
The operation of public-safety vehicles during emergency response traditionally has been recognized as one of the top hazards to law-enforcement, emergency-medical and fire-service personnel. Law enforcement educates recruits regarding the science, concepts and philosophy of performance driving through emergency vehicle operations courses (EVOC) that are offered as basic training at the academy. A major component of EVOC training is the use of either technology or a slick surface to create conditions where the coefficient of friction (grip) is reduced. These reduced grip conditions allow drivers to evaluate the mental and technical skills that were developed during training.
However, law enforcement and fire service primary response vehicles differ greatly in their dynamics and performance because of the disparity in their size and weight — there is a big difference between a 4,500-pound police package sedan and a fire apparatus that weighs more than 20,000 pounds. There also is a distinct difference in the skills and experience of an EVOC-trained law-enforcement officer and a firefighter. In the past, such training disparities often were a product of the respective cultures. The reality is that all public-safety agencies and their personnel face the same risks and liability exposure when they fail to properly address training.
The Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) provides training oversight and professional standards for more than 5,000 law-enforcement officers and more than 13,000 career and volunteer firefighters. Law-enforcement training traditionally is provided through the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem, with a limited portion of advanced or maintenance training provided regionally. Conversely, the fire-service training program delivers most of its training through its regional training coordinators. With diverse geography, weather patterns, and sparsely populated areas across the state, the presentation of basic, advanced and/or complex training is a major challenge in itself.
A Different Kind of Skid Unit
The DPSST is no stranger to remote delivery and over the last 10 years has purchased numerous training props that can be moved around the state to assist with the needs of the Oregon fire service. The latest addition to the fire training toolbox is the Skid-Avoidance for Fire Apparatus Drivers (SAFAD) program. The program is similar to that used by the law-enforcement community with the notable difference being the use of a Ford F-650 crew cab truck with a gross vehicle weight rating up to 20,000 pounds, instead of the police package sedan.
The concept of the program started several years ago and came together in early 2009, as a result of several tragic accidents involving fire-service drivers. As does the law-enforcement EVOC, the SAFAD program provides a sound base of training that emphasizes the size of the vehicle and how it relates to the surrounding environment, as well as the vehicles performance characteristics and how they are affected by driving conditions.
The knowledge base, skills and abilities were established using such standards as NFPA 1002, Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, and today the SAFAD curriculum provides hands-on experience to support and reinforce the base training.
In designing the program, the overarching goal was to provide each attending operator the psychomotor skills and mental attitudes essential to becoming the most competent, skillful and responsible driver possible. That is essential to achieving the program’s performance objective, which is to reduce the number of accidents and injuries involving fire apparatus and personnel.
To deliver the requisite training, various solutions were considered. The DPSST ultimately selected the SKIDCAR system.
The system consists of two hydraulic platforms mounted to the front and rear axles of the truck. An instructor, seated next to the driver, adjusts the grip using a computer that controls the hydraulic platforms. The instructor is able to create situations where it is possible for the driver to lose control or experience common roadway hazards, at low speeds with no physical risk to the driver, instructor or equipment. Real-time instruction throughout the event is the ultimate key to successful training with this system. To achieve the mobility needed for regional delivery, a trailer was designed to hold the system components, tools, spare parts and other equipment and supplies. The training package is self-contained with the Ford F-650 crew cab truck acting as the power unit for transport. To support regional implementation of this program, all instructors assigned to the SAFAD program have or will be trained on this system.
Accessing a location with a minimum 300-by 600-foot slab of smooth, open and level pavement has proved to be a challenge when planning and scheduling SAFAD training. Examples of sites that have been used include the Oregon Public Safety Academy in Salem, the Port of Portland, the Redmond Air Tanker Base, Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Pendleton Airport, and the Roseburg Lumber Co. chip loading facility in North Bend. These locations are representative of training sites throughout the state and have been vetted by DPSST instructors to ensure that they meet the minimum specifications and will allow for the total experience in a safe manner when the student is behind the wheel. Each location has its own set of coordination issues and DPSST staff continues to seek potential training sites in its quest to push the training out further to its constituents. Overall, the program logistics are handled by the regional fire training associations with assistance from DPSST regional training coordinators.
Training at Your Door
Regional delivery of this program is a variation of the model presented at the academy. The minimum prerequisite is current NFPA 1002 certification or its equivalency. Prior to the actual hands-on training, DPSST regional training coordinators or local fire service program training staff will conduct classroom training at local fire departments. To ease the burden of classroom delivery and to provide consistent presentation, a DVD was created with the assistance of Portland Fire & Rescue, the Salem Fire Department, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue. The DVD is sent to an agency for delivery during customary scheduled trainings.
When the skid truck becomes available within the local jurisdiction, the participating department works with DPSST staff to facilitate the actual driving portion of the course, which consists of an operational briefing and then hands-on training with the skid unit conducted over a 60-minute period. This model allows for participating departments to shuttle crews between the skid-training venue and home agencies, thus having less impact on the backfilling of stations. The DPSST staff devotes six hours per day to actual hands-on driver training and may remain in a region up to an entire month to accommodate as many agencies as possible, as a result of local training venue challenges.
It should be noted that some SAFAD trainees have made a six-hour roundtrip to attend the regional training session. Their willingness to do so, coupled with their agency’s support, clearly establishes the cultural acceptance and priority placed on SAFAD training, as well as the fire departments’ commitment to reducing firefighter injuries and deaths due to emergency response vehicle incidents.
Since the initiation of the program, the DPSST has reviewed five documented cases in which fire-service personnel who received the SAFAD training used their enhanced skills to avoid potentially hazardous situations. During the biannual statewide DPSST Listening Tour that was conducted recently, constituent opinion was that the SAFAD program is of the highest value and topped the list of training that the fire-service agencies would like to see expanded and presented more frequently. Testimonials from the actual operators, strong support from command and executive staff, and proven results offer the best program validation.
All disciplines within public safety have the inherent responsibility to protect their personnel and the public from physical harm, and the appointing authority or jurisdiction from liability exposure. The SAFAD Program is an example of a well-conceived, -presented and -received curriculum in which its true value is assessed every time our personnel are called to respond.
Eriks Gabliks is director for the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) and the Oregon Public Safety Academy. He has a Bachelor’s in Fire Service Administration from Western Oregon University and a Master’s in Public Administration from Portland State University. He is a graduate of the National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program and serves as the current President of the North American Fire Training Directors Association (NAFTD).
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