Every year, approximately 25% of firefighter fatalities are due to vehicle crashes occurring when the firefighter is either responding to or returning from an emergency incident.
In the last 10 years, more than 225 firefighters have been killed in the line of duty as a result of a vehicle crash. Last year alone, more firefighters were killed while responding to or returning from an incident than by on-scene events, excluding medical emergencies. Additionally, numerous firefighters die as a result of being struck by a vehicle, including fire apparatus, while working at emergency incidents. This has been the cause of death of 18 firefighters since 2000.
In response to these alarming statistics, the U.S. Fire Administration has initiated numerous project efforts aimed at reducing the deaths of firefighters from these causes.
In August 2004, thepublished the Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative, a report co-sponsored by the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration. The purpose of the initiative, which involved numerous national-level fire service groups, allied federal agencies and other organizations that provided extensive technical expertise and support, was to enhance the safety of firefighters while responding and returning from emergencies and while operating on the roadway.
The report addresses, in detail, recommendations regarding standards and SOPS, training and technology that could be used to enhance emergency vehicle operations safety, and roadway safety operations of firefighters and other emergency responders. It also includes best practices from several fire departments throughout the United States that have developed innovative emergency vehicle safety mitigation techniques and technologies.
One of the key findings of the initiative was that emergency vehicle warning lights cause motorist disorientation. The USFA, with funding from FHWA, is partnering with the Society of Automotive Engineers to further research the effect and mitigation for that disorientation. All emergency vehicle lighting systems, including incandescent, halogen, strobe and light-emitting diodes, and their effect on normal, impaired and drowsy drivers (also known as the “moth effect”) will be examined.
This research will examine collisions between fire apparatus and other vehicles, as well as incidents where firefighters have been struck and killed while operating at emergency incidents where the use of emergency lighting may have been a factor. Technology and operational mitigation (reducing amount of lighting used) will be researched, as well.
Findings from this emergency lighting study may be forwarded to national-level consensus standards organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association and others in the development of related standards and training materials. Additionally, SAE and its Emergency Warning Lighting and Devices Standard Committee may use the findings in the development of its own standards.
The initiative report also served as a basis for partnerships recently initiated by the USFA with the, the International Association of Fire Fighters and the National Volunteer Fire Council to reduce the number of firefighters killed while responding to or returning from an emergency scene. These three leading fire service membership organizations will take the recommendations from the initiative and develop materials that directly target their constituencies. This outreach project will address issues such as seatbelt use, intersection safety, fire apparatus and emergency vehicle safety design, driver selection and training, policies involving alcohol and driving, and implementation of alternative response programs.
Research & development
Another joint project between USFA, DOT FHWA and the International Fire Service Training Association recently was initiated on the research and development of effective technical guidance and training programs for fire and emergency service providers in traffic incident management systems for enhanced compliance with DOT's Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Implementing an effective traffic incident management system could have an impact on reducing the number of firefighters killed by being struck by vehicles while performing emergency operations.
The project also will assist emergency response organizations in conforming to the soon to be released National Fire Service Incident Management System Consortium Model Procedures Guide for Highway Incidents. The information contained in the IMS Consortium Guide enhances firefighter operational effectiveness, reduces potential liability, and enhances responder safety at roadway emergency scenes.
As part of this joint project, research will be conducted into emergency services' implementation of traffic incident management systems and the IMS Consortium Guide examining such technology and practices as effective distance of placement of roadway warning signs; correct amount and type of emergency vehicle warning lighting (intensity, color, etc.); and training, placement and protective equipment for “flaggers.”
For the first time, the USFA has partnered with theto support their Evaluation of Emergency Services Vehicle Occupant Safety Project. This project involves the continued analysis of crash data of ambulances and other EMS response vehicles, hazard identification and task analysis, determination of appropriate crash-testing methodologies, development of occupant restraint systems, and modeling of ambulance crash scenarios. This effort will support future study of the effects of human factors for EMS workers in ambulance patients.
USFA also has published a report, Safe Operation of Fire Tankers, which discusses crashes involving fire tankers that have killed and injured firefighters and provides strategies, techniques and technologies to mitigate fire tanker crashes by enhancing the safe operations of these vehicles. This report also discusses issues involving human performance, vehicle design and firefighting operations to develop effective ways to mitigate tanker crashes.
In addition to the above project efforts and partnerships, USFA supports the Emergency Responder Safety Institute's Web site, ResponderSafety.com, which disseminates valuable information regarding operations and technology for emergency responder highway incident safety. Created as a committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association, the institute serves as an informal advisory panel of public safety leaders committed to reducing deaths and injuries to America's emergency responders.
Finally, USFA also supports the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Firefighter Life Safety Initiative aimed at reducing the number of firefighters killed in the line of duty, 25% within five years and 50% within 10 years.
Further information on the NFFF's Firefighter Life Safety Initiative may be found on this page of the NFFF Web site, www.firehero.org/index1.aspx?BD=26649.
USFA remains committed to researching and studying the nature and causes of injuries, deaths and economic losses resulting from fires and will continue to develop innovative programs and partnerships to enhance the safety of the American fire service. For more information about USFA's efforts in emergency vehicle safety, visit www.usfa.fema.gov/inside-usfa/research/safety/vehicle.shtm.
Limited quantities of the USFA reports, Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative and Safe Operation of Fire Tankers, are available free of charge by calling 800-561-3356 or 301-447-1189, or by faxing a request to 301-447-1213. They also can be ordered or downloaded through the USFA Publications Catalog.
R. David Paulison was appointed director of the Preparedness Division of the Emergency Preparedness & Response Directorate/and the administrator for the U.S. Fire Administration. A 30-year veteran of the fire service, Paulison was chief of the Miami-Dade (Fla.) Fire Rescue Department before joining FEMA. He has completed the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.