Firefighters learn truck safety in Maine; 'Stand Down' classes stress caution

By Andrew Knapp
Bangor Daily News (Maine)
Copyright 2006 Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine — As Fire Chief Jeff Cammack gazed Friday morning through the open garage doors of Central Fire Station on Main Street, the intercom buzzed and a voice dispatched a single engine to the scene of a minor fuel spill.

Walking calmly across the concrete floor and hopping into a massive firetruck, the driver flipped a switch that turned on the vehicle's flashing blue and red lights and prepared to drive off with sirens blaring.

Cammack scurried to the driver's side door, opened it and ordered the operator to shut off the lights.

Considering the nonlife-threatening nature of the incident, the call didn't require the "Code Red" with which the driver was treating it, Cammack said.

"When they get a call, their adrenaline is pumping," the fire chief said, his arms crossed as he stood near another firetruck. "But it's better to go slowly and obey traffic laws than to crash and never make it to the scene."

As part of the 2006 International Firefighter Safety Stand Down Day, Cammack aimed Friday to educate Bangor fire crews about truck-driving safety. Through a barrage of slide shows and demonstrations attended by the firefighters, he stressed the need for drivers to obey rules of the road binding all motorists. Firefighters are obligated to stop at red lights and drive at the speed limit, he said.

U.S. and Canadian fire departments participated in the second-year event. All nonemergency activities were suspended Friday while firefighters completed safety classes.

In 2005, 106 firefighters nationwide died in the line of duty — 26 of them as a result of vehicle-related accidents, according to U.S. Fire Administration statistics.

Cammack joked that the last accident involving a Bangor firetruck happened when an engine backed into a garage door four days ago. The last serious accident killed several occupants of a car that was hit by a firetruck in the 1970s on Interstate 395.

Years ago, firefighters rode standing up without seat belts, according to Cammack, who has worked at the department for 27 years. After this year's stand down day, he hoped his men will sit down, slow down and follow safety precautions.

The fire chief also inspected the 60 pounds of gear each firefighter wears. Out of 40 inspections in the past two days, about six pieces of equipment failed the scrutiny, he said.

Circling rating numbers on an inspection log sheet, Cammack informed firefighter Ron Green that his helmet lacked proper reflectors and heat-resistant paint. The headgear was worn from constant use.

"We get a little complacent sometimes," Green said Friday after the inspection, "so it's nice to have someone look over our stuff."

In 16 years as a driver, Green has never been involved in an accident with a firetruck, he said. He has witnessed many, however.

"Some of the crashes are just stupid," he said, with his hand resting on the truck he drives. "It's human nature to get a little excited, but [traffic] laws are in place for a reason. We must follow them."

Three of the four Bangor fire crews have completed the classes. The final group will undergo safety instructions on Monday. 

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