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Fire apparatus backing accidents

Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for my friends in the fire service. Today I am going to talk about reducing fire apparatus backing collisions. Just a thought: stop calling them accidents, they are collisions.

Safe backing procedures save lives. Backing up a piece of fire apparatus is a team effort. Every person has a responsibility in assisting the driver. Weather, road conditions, traffic, pedestrians, and time of day are all factors that impact the driver’s ability to reposition the apparatus.  

The backing of fire apparatus is one of the leading causes of collisions in the fire service, right up there with intersection wrecks. It is paramount that backing procedures are detailed and rehearsed by all crew members. Too often, a call dictates navigating to a tight and narrow location, which then requires reversing the apparatus quickly.  

In time-sensitive situations like this, unrehearsed backing procedures increase the risk of a collision or injury to firefighters or members of the public.  

As part of the backing procedure, communication between the driver and various spotters is essential in maintaining a safe operation. Spotters should always be visible to the driver. It’s up to the spotters to avoid drifting into any blind spots while the apparatus is backing. Also, communication between the driver and spotters is essential. Hand signals should be used to communicate to the driver when to stop and move safely. Radio communication by headset or handset is a great way to support hand signals. Tailboard and side cameras also provide added visibility. The driver, though, should be looking at spotters in their mirrors, not the in-cab monitors. 

Another piece of the puzzle is making sure the spotter is visible to other motorists. During daylight hours, a highly reflective vest with a helmet will make the spotter visible. Adding a hand light to the ensemble at night will help other drivers see the spotter. You’ve got to increase your visual conspicuity. 

Responsibility for the safe operation of fire apparatus falls ultimately on the driver. The fire agency is responsible for reducing these collisions by providing comprehensive fire apparatus backing policies, procedures, and training. Remember, apparatus backing collisions are preventable.  

And let me wrap up with this: Way back in the ‘80s when I started talked to fire service personnel, a very famous fire chief told me, “Gordon, in my department, traffic collisions involving fire apparatus 1 for every 137,000 miles we drive forward, and 1 for every 14 feet we back up. He knew it then, we know it now, it’s filled with risk. It’s an identifiable risk and a manageable risk. 

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off. 

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