According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) “In 2016, a total of 69 on-duty firefighter deaths occurred in the U.S.” (Fhay, LaBlanc, & Molis, 2017). Of these 69 deaths 19 firefighters died in vehicle-related incidents, including 17 firefighters who died in vehicle crashes and two who were struck by vehicles. This was twice more than the total number of LODD related to fire ground operations, a misunderstanding of what firefighters’ think is the deadliest part of the job. Fire departments around the country have focused on saving firefighters when fighting a fire, but have not focused on issues outside the fire grounds.
On July 16, 2012, a 30-year-old male volunteer fire fighter (victim) died after being ejected from the fire engine. The victim was riding in the front captain’s seat of the apparatus. The victim was responding on engine 6-5 to a motor vehicle collision with another firefighter (the driver). The engine was traveling on a two-lane highway. The posted speed limit was 45 miles per hour. The driver estimates he was traveling at approximately 35-45 miles per hour. The collision occurred just as engine 6-5 entered a left curve after exiting a right turn. When engine 6-5 made the left turn its right rear wheels lifted and left the road. A narrow ditch was present on the right side of the road. Engine 6-5 crashed into the ditch and collided head-on with a tree. Upon impact, the victim was ejected from his seat through the front windshield. The victim was not wearing his seatbelt. The driver was belted in and not ejected. The driver self-extricated through the front windshield in an attempt to look for the victim. The driver found the victim lying unconscious and unresponsive in the woods. The driver contacted dispatch for additional resources, then began CPR. Shortly after fire and rescue units arrived on the scene. Emergency medical care was administered to the victim. The victim was pronounced dead on scene.
On July 25, 2012, a safety and occupational health specialist from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program traveled to Virginia to investigate this incident. The NIOSH investigator identified the following as key contributing factors which led to the fatality: “inadequate SOP’s related to seatbelt use, the victim not wearing a seat belt, truck check not being performed, inadequate driver training, losing control of the vehicle.” (NIOSH 2014).
It is essential that fire departments establish and implement SOP’s related to the service. The department involved had a verbal policy about using seat belts, but not a written SOP. In the incident the driver was wearing his seatbelt, but not the passenger. The driver states he does not remember seeing the victim put on his seatbelt prior to departure. NFPA 1500 Standard on fire department occupational safety in health program, 6.3.1 states, “all persons riding in fire apparatus shall be seated and belted securely by seatbelts in approved riding positions at any time the vehicle is in motion.” (NFPA 1500, n.d.). NFPA 1500 6.2.5 also states, “drivers shall not move the fire apparatus until all persons on the vehicle are seated and secured with seatbelts in approved riding positions.” (NFPA 1500, n.d.). Golder Ranch Fire District (GRFD) has SOP’s related to operating an apparatus, one of which involves seatbelts. GRFD SOP 6111 states “All personnel driving or riding in fire district vehicles shall be seated in approved riding positions with seat belts or safety restraints fastened at all times when the vehicle is in motion…The driver shall not begin to move the vehicle until all passengers are seated and properly secured.” (GRFD Standard operating procedure). It is essential for all personnel in the apparatus to wear their seatbelt. The death of the firefighter may have been avoided if proper safety procedures were followed.
As a driver operator it is your job to make sure that the apparatus and equipment are in service and ready for the shift. During interviews with a neighboring department that responded to the incident, one firefighter stated that he emptied the engine’s water tank. The firefighter states that the tank was only approximately half full. The driver states the engine was checked by ambulance personnel that day, but the water tank was not checked. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of other personnel to check an apparatus they are not working on or have no training in. It is the duty of medical providers to check and ensure their ambulance is ready for the day. Also, it is the duty of the driver operator to check the vehicle and ensure it is ready for the day. Every shift a daily truck check should be performed for every vehicle, and those records should be stored. In a separate incident, a fire took place at station 6 in 2006. All of their documents regarding SOP’s and vehicle maintenance records were lost. GRFD has multiple systems in place to ensure all records are kept. At GRFD vehicle truck checks are performed every morning. The vehicle truck check is documented on paper and electronically. Personnel record the check on the daily-check sheet, in the black journal kept in the apparatus, and Operative IQ computer system. At the end of the week the vehicle daily check sheets are reviewed and sent to GRFD fleet. Fleet then scans the documents in the computer system and stores the paper copies. Having multiple recording systems helps to avoid incidents such as the one that occurred at station 6 in 2006.
Fire departments should also ensure that driver operators have sufficient training to maintain control of the apparatus at all times. NFPA 1500 6.2.4 states, “Drivers of fire apparatus shall be directly responsible for the safe and prudent operation of the vehicles under all conditions.” (NFPA 1500, n.d.). Common factors that lead to vehicle accidents include inadequate training, excessive speed, inexperience, and poor habits. After investigations it was revealed that the driver was driving approximately 55 miles per hour before the collision, not 34-45 miles per hour as the driver stated. In this incident the driver of the apparatus did not have any documented driver operator training other than an emergency vehicle operator course (EVOC). The driver adds that he had driven engine 6-5 approximately 50 times prior to the incident. Fire departments should ensure that all driver operators complete a driver’s training program. At GRFD personnel are required to successfully complete a comprehensive training program. The driver operator course consists of completing the appropriate tasks book and skills portion. All training will be recorded and proctored by the appropriate staff. GRFD has a couple of SOP’s related to emergency vehicles as well. SOP 6102 driving emergency vehicles provides various procedures to follow when driving a vehicle. “Not only must emergency vehicle drivers provide prompt conveyance of the apparatus, equipment, and personnel to provide service to those in need, but as importantly, must accomplish this task in the safest and most prudent manner possible.” (GRFD Standard operating procedure).
GRFD is an organization that is proactive, not reactive. GRFD has multiple SOP’s related to emergency vehicle operations that can be found on the intranet. These SOP’s describe how to perform operations in a safe and efficient manner. SOP’s related to emergency vehicle operations exist to protect not only GRFD personnel but also the district residents. Our goal is to mitigate hazards and prevent incidents from occurring. GRFD also provides efficient training programs such as the driver operator course along with many others. It is a common goal to ensure all GRFD personnel are fit and trained for duty. Every day in the fire service is a new day. It is our job to make sure we are prepared for it. Unfortunately, the fire service lost a brother on July 16, 2012. Let us learn from the mistakes that were made so we can reduce the chance of a similar occurrence in the future.
Fahy, R. F., LeBlanc, P. R., & Molis, J. L. (2017, June 1). Firefighter fatalities in the United States. Retrieved January 24, 2018, from
Fire Chief Randy Karrer. Golder Ranch Fire District. “Standard Operating Procedures.”
Driving emergency vehicles 6102. Seatbelts 6111.
NIOSH. (2014, October 15). Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies After Being Ejected from Front Seat of Engine-Virginia. Retrieved January 24, 2018, from
NFPA 1500. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2018, from