By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Several years ago, at a fire service conference, I attended a session on reducing risk in fire departments. The presenter, whose name escapes me, make a statement that really stuck with me, “You cannot manage or eliminate risk in this business, but you can regulate it.” He went on to explain that regulating meant making sure that everyone in the department had the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) to recognize daily risks and take the appropriate actions to avoid those risk.
Our operation of fire apparatus, for both emergency and non-emergency driving, is probably the single greatest exposure to risk for our fire service organizations. Noted public safety risk reduction expert, Gordon Graham, characterizes driving emergency vehicles as a high risk, high frequency activity. We do it all the time and it’s a dangerous world out there.
Every day we see a multitude of bad driving behaviors on the part of the driving public: distracted driving, speeding and aggressive behavior. We have an obligation in public safety to not contribute to that environment. We must never lose sight of the fact that we’re expected to be professional drivers—whether firefighting is our job or our avocation—every time we get behind the wheel.
Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of driver training
Safe emergency vehicle operation (EVO) requires more than just training and education. A fire department’s EVO must be a well-developed and well-maintained program that includes:
- Good standard operating guidelines (SOGs);
- Good initial training, education, practice and certification;
- Good continuing education and training and re-certification;
- Continuous monitoring of driving behaviors and feedback to personnel; and
- Strict accountability for personnel regarding their driving behaviors.
The bottom line is that EVO cannot be a “once and done” activity for a fire department and its personnel.
SOG for Your Department’s EVO Program
Your SOG should clearly cover these three key components for all emergency vehicle operators: responsibility,
authority, and accountability.
Driver Responsibilities. This component should address every aspect of the expected behaviors for your vehicle operators: (1) proper inspection, maintenance, and care for the vehicle; (2) applicable laws, rules, and regulations for the operation of an emergency vehicle in your locality and state; (3) the initial required training, education, and practice necessary to operate the emergency vehicle; and (4) the requirements to maintain one’s ability to operate an emergency vehicle.
Authority to Operate an Emergency Vehicle. Your SOG should cover the requirements necessary for an individual to earn a “license” to operate an emergency vehicle in your department. It should include:
- The required training and education for initial certification as an emergency vehicle operator (What must the individual know?);
- The testing process for obtaining that initial certification (What must the individual successfully demonstrate to obtain their license?);
- The documentation of the individual’s initial training and certification (The issuance of the license); and
- The requirements for continuing training and education and certification for the individual to retain the authority to operate an emergency vehicle (What must the individual keep doing to continue being an emergency vehicle operator?).
Accountability. This section of your SOG should clearly define those driving behaviors that will result in sanctions (discipline) for the individual, e.g., written warnings, suspension of driving privileges, and termination of employment or membership. Your SOG should specifically address the most common types of unacceptable emergency vehicle operations behaviors, such as:
- Failure to keep their assigned emergency vehicle in safe operating condition;
- Operating the vehicle at unsafe speeds;
- Failure to bring the vehicle to a complete stop at a controlled intersection where they have a stop sign or red light;
- Aggressive driving that endangers civilian drivers or other emergency vehicles;
- Vehicle crash with damage to a departmental vehicle, or civilian vehicle, without injuries;
- Vehicle crash with damage to a departmental vehicle, or civilian vehicle, with injuries; and
- Vehicle crash with damage to a departmental vehicle, or civilian vehicle, resulting in the death of a departmental member or civilian
The success of your EVO program will be based largely upon how well your department’s leaders—from the station-level officers to the fire chief—carry out their responsibilities for the program. The ability of the officers to carry out their responsibilities, in turn, will be based on how well-developed your written SOG is for the program. That responsibility—providing a SOG based on clear objective criterion—can be your department’s key to success in regulating the risks adherent to the operation of emergency fire and EMS apparatus.