Saturday, March 2, 2013

Driver responsibility. How seriously do you take it?

Driver operator responsibility has been hit on and hit on again. It is pounded into every driver’s head since day one of driver school. Shortly before the New Year I encountered a situation that changed my opinion of this topic for good. Never before have I taken the responsibility of the driver operator so serious.

The truck that I was assigned to drive, a 2009 Pierce, had suffered a hose bed cover failure, which left the cover torn and unable to be repaired. The entire hose bed was exposed. I had some concerns about the situation, some of which I had voiced to officers. I had continued to operate the truck without the hose bed cover, because well… what is the worst that could happen?

It was early in the afternoon on a sunny weekend. My company was called to an unknown outside fire with other units from the town. I was traveling at a moderate rate of speed down a four-lane road. I had just encountered a red light, which I had stopped at before proceeding through the intersection. At the base of a long hill was a bump in the road and a short bridge that crossed a wetland. I was traveling at about 50 mph when I hit the bump. That is when it must have occurred.

The bump caused the front of the 5” supply hose to lift up and the wind was able to get under the hose folds enough to cause the hose to slide. I subsequently lost all 1000’ of my hose. The worst part of the situation was I didn’t have a clue.

We continued down the road responding to the incident with no idea that we had lost the hose.

I check my mirrors periodically and scan from left to right, near and far. I never saw the hose come off.  While enroute to the call the communications center transmitted over our channel that they were receiving calls stating a fire truck had lost a “piece” of hose. On the second report of lost hose transmitted, they stated it was along the stretch of road we had just traveled. I knew it was ours.

We were canceled off the run and found a safe place to park the truck. My firefighter jumped off to see the damage and returned with an awkward smile on his face. I shouted “what?” He quietly stated, it is gone. I replied “what do you mean it’s gone” in a panicked tone. He replied quietly, “it is all gone, all 1000’.” A sick feeling hit me almost instantly. That 3-mile drive back to where we had lost our hose was the longest drive of my career. I couldn’t help but think about if I had damaged someone’s vehicle, hurt someone, or worse, killed someone. I wanted to vomit.

We returned to find that all the hose was laid out along the roadway and citizens were dragging it to the sidewalk. By the grace of God, it had not damaged another vehicle or killed another driver.

What would have been the repercussions if I had caused damage or killed someone?
I would have been responsible, as would our fire department. As the driver, I was responsible for ensuring the safe operation of the truck. I was driving the truck in emergency mode with an unsecured load. I would have been legally and civilly responsible for anything that could have occurred. I could have had to live with hurting or killing someone. Thank goodness that did not occur on this day.

This situation brings to light, how seriously are we taking driver responsibility? Are we allowing people that are under qualified take on this high stress, high responsibility job? Are we responding as fire service leadership to the safety concerns that are voiced?

As a reminder, the driver is responsible for:

Ensuring the truck is ready for response.
Getting the truck to the call safely.
Knowing how to pump the truck (not just a lever puller).
Protecting the crew from traffic.
Operating the truck’s scene lighting.
Knowing where all the tools are located and how to operate those tools.
Returning from the call safely.

How deep does the driver’s responsibility run? Take time to review your job if you drive and think about your actions and the manner in which you are currently doing business. How seriously are you and your organization taking driver responsibility and apparatus safety?

My situation could have happened at any time with the state in which the truck was. Everyone can offer opinions of why it occurred. The bottom line is that it happened and as the driver, it would have been Justin Graney that would sit in the hot seat legally, and Justin Graney that would have had to try to sleep at night if I had hurt someone.

The job of a driver operator holds the highest level of responsibility in the fire service. If you make a mistake, you can seriously injure or kill another person, including your brothers/sisters. Take your job seriously and give 100% to each day on the truck. Have the courage to speak up to your leadership if you feel there anything unsafe occurring. There is not any room for errors in the driver’s job. You need to be on your game.

Fire service leadership must take safety concerns seriously and take rapid steps to rectify the situation before a dangerous situation can occur. In addition, take steps within the organization to require driver operator recurrent training and testing. In our business, we cannot allow complacency or “rusty” skills to be in the forefront. It is your job as the organizational heads to do everything possible to ensure a safe, results based, education rounded fire department.

Stay safe out there. 

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