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Safe Backing

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Submitted By firefighter813x
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Safe Vehicle Operations

Firefighters and emergency personnel lay their lives on the line to save others at any moments notice. Firefighting is a job that is highly respected among others and requires bravery, integrity and the ability to quickly think, react and overcome problems. Firefighters respond to many calls to include fire alarms, fires, and incidents involving hazardous materials, car accidents and many emergency medical calls. Safely responding to these said emergencies is the number one priority of the fire department. According Fahy, LeBlanc, & Molis, 2013, 30% of fire and emergency apparatus have wrecked, injured and or killed personnel in 2012 (p. 18). How can emergency services provide care if they can’t even make it safely on-scene? Department management needs to review their certification systems for driver/operators, standard operating procedures (if any), for safe vehicle operations to ensure personnel are properly trained as vehicle operators.
What are common safety violations that can cause injury and death? Backing fire apparatus are the most common reason for accidents and are the easiest to correct (Tutterow, 2009, p. 1). According to Tutterow, 2009, an 82-year-old man was killed when a rescue apparatus backed into him on scene… a firefighter was killed and another injured when a department was taking pictures of a newly received apparatus backing into a station. Within 11 days of this incident, the Los Angeles Fire Department had allowed firefighters to remain on the tailboard while backing. Unfortunately, this practice killed the very first female firefighter as she fell off of the tailboard and was crushed. Sadly enough, the LAFD defended their SOP’s and although unwilling, they revised their SOP to help prevent such incidents (Tutterow, 2009, p. 1). How can fire departments avoid backing accidents? Lets go back to the basics… the NFPA has many standards that cover safety pertaining to fire apparatus. Everything starts with NFPA 1002, Standard on Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications, which identifies the minimum job performance requirements for firefighters who drive and operate fire apparatus, in both emergency and nonemergency situations (NFPA). Does your department have qualified drivers operating fire apparatus? Driver/operators need to be trained on the specific fire apparatus that they are operating and that is where NFPA 1451 comes into play. NFPA 1451, Standard for a Fire Service Vehicle Operations Training Program, provides for the development of a written vehicle operations training program, including the organizational procedures for training, vehicle maintenance, and identifying equipment deficiencies (Fahy, LeBlanc, & Molis, 2013, p. 9-10). In South Carolina, firefighters must obtain a class “E” permit or drivers license endorsement before operating emergency vehicles. At the James Island Fire Department, Fire Department vehicles shall be operated only by personnel who have successfully completed an approved driver-training program or by student drivers who are under the direct supervision of a qualified driver. Approved driver training programs shall include the following… “South Carolina Class E drivers license permit, South Carolina Fire Academy (SCFA) Course 1210 Emergency Vehicle Driver Training (EVDT), SCFA Course 1220 Pumper Operations or Course 1250 Basic Aerial Operations and on the job training (OJT) as provided by qualified personnel within the Fire Department…drivers of Fire Department vehicles shall have a valid South Carolina Drivers License…vehicles shall be operated in compliance with all traffic laws of the State of South Carolina, including sections pertaining to emergency vehicles” (Seabolt, 2012, p. 1-5).
Firefighters are promoted to engineer once they have received sufficient training, certification and testing on engine, ladder truck and tender operations. Upon completion of these items, firefighters will demonstrate their capabilities via practical examination. The practical examination requires the firefighter to demonstrate the pre and post trip inspection procedures, test specific vehicle statistics, pump theory and knowledge and vehicle maintenance in accordance with NFPA 1911, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, Maintenance and Retirement of In-Service Automotive Fire Apparatus, details a program to ensure that fire apparatus are serviced and maintained to keep them in safe operating condition. Chief Alan Brunacini of the Phoenix Fire Department said in regarding to fire apparatus accidents, they occur “every 30,000 miles going forward and about every 80 feet backing up” (Robertson, 2008, p.1). Chief Brunacini hit the nail on the head with that quote. Go take a look at most fire apparatus and one can see the blemishes, scrapes and dents on the front and rear bumpers from accidents.
Backing is one of our most dangerous apparatus operations. My old fire captain once told me to only back up if I absolutely have to and to plan my route and positioning to prevent backing. According to firefighter nation, “If your department doesn’t have a standard operating procedure (SOP) that covers backing of fire apparatus, you need one.” This is a very important SOP that can save lives. Period.
The bread and butter of backing consist of ground guides, which are also known as spotters. Spotters are personnel that are outside of the vehicle that assist the driver with positioning the apparatus. Spotters must search for obstructions fore and aft of the apparatus before allowing the operator to back. Overhead obstructions must also be taken into consideration when spotting a vehicle. According to Robertson, 2008, “any backing SOP must also address the use of ground guides and hand signals” (p.1). Departments need to make sure that all personnel are aware of the hand signals and their meaning while backing apparatus. According to the Charleston AFB Fire Department SOP, “All vehicles will be backed into parking spaces and driveways unless such is prohibited… Spotters will direct the backing of vehicles…Vehicles shall have a spotter at the left rear and the right front” (Heitman, 2009, p. 21). Depending on personnel manning, a SOP that requires two spotters may be the best option for lower manned trucks. At a minimum, it is encouraged to have at least two spotters. The James Island Fire Department requires all personnel except the driver to exit the apparatus and aid with backing. This is the best option due to the fact that all apparatus have a minimum of four personnel. All backing personnel will be wearing an approved reflective traffic safety vest. For areas that are not well lit, spotters must also use an illuminated traffic wand or a flashlight to help the spotter to be more visible to the driver. The first person should be located on the driver’s side rear of the vehicle in direct visual sight of the driver (in the mirror) and shall survey the area for hazards such as traffic, pedestrians, parked vehicles, or other obstructions. The back-up person shall direct the driver in backing the vehicle using visual signals or audible communications via radio, when appropriate. The second person shall be located on the officer’s side front of the vehicle and in direct sight of the driver and shall survey the area for hazards such as traffic, pedestrians, parked vehicles, or other obstructions. All personnel should maintain awareness of hazards, such as traffic, that may endanger the back-up person” (Seabolt, 2012, p. 1-5)
Guides should be positioned at the rear, far enough away from the backing apparatus that they’re not endangered. They should always stay where they can see the mirrors of the apparatus and in turn be seen by the operator. If the operator loses sight of the guide at any time, they should come to an immediate stop. Use the scene lighting on the rear of the apparatus to illuminate the area and provide better visibility for both the guides and apparatus operator has parked something else in the same bay that you can’t see when backing out of bright sunlight into a dark station. Last but not least, go slow! Too many operators drive with their ego and overcompensate with their abilities. The engineer is responsible for everyone on the apparatus and should not move until all passengers are wearing their seatbelt. Never let peer-pressure or the lack of cool points of safety gear compromise your decision making when using personnel protective equipment. I encourage all ranks firefighter through chief to review their current SOP’s and make sure all members have a clear understanding of safe vehicle operations. * *

Fahy, R., LeBlanc, P., & Molis, J. (2013, June). National Fire Protection Association. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from
Heitman, D. (2009). Standard Operating Procedure 22. Vehicle Operations.
Peterson, K. (n.d.). Best Practices for Commercial Auto #203. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from
Robertson, H. (2008, May 31). Proper Backing Procudures for Fire Apparatus | Firefighter Nation. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from
Tutterow, R. (2009, August 1). How To Prevent Backing Accidents - Fire Apparatus. Retrieved June 14, 2013, from

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