What to do before you arrive at the crash scene
As firefighters, we are taught to appreciate the value of preparation, especially in regard to responding to structure fires. We have pre-fire plans or quick-access surveys to assist us with buildings in our response area in the event of a fire. The plans include details such as hydrant locations, special hazards, and other information that helps us put our strategies and tactics to use in controlling a fire and keeping our members safe.
Preparation has become such an essential part of firefighting that it begs the following question: why don’t we do the same thing for vehicle crashes? It’s true that every crash is different, but every fire is different, too. We exhaustively train to improve our skills in putting out fires, but why isn’t the same time and effort put into vehicle extrication? After all, most fire departments respond to more car crashes than fires. Plus, there is always a civilian life-safety issue with vehicle crashes, which can’t be said for all fires.
So how do we address this issue? Let’s start with our equipment. To quote Chief Billy Goldfeder, “Are we experts on the equipment that we carry on our apparatus?” I have worked with some drivers that knew their truck like the back of their hand and others who didn’t notice that the engine didn’t have water in the tank until they needed it for a fire.
I don’t want to get on a soapbox about equipment, but we must know it cold. On our worst day we should not give any conscious thought to how a piece of equipment is operated or where it is on the apparatus — it should be second nature. We like to think we are proficient, but are we really? Test each other and yourself.
Pre-connected hose lines are on the engine and are able to be placed into operation quickly and efficiently to fight fires. If possible, this should carry over to the heavy hydraulic hoses, power units, spreaders and cutters. Instead, we often carry everything disconnected and try to connect the couplings while someone is critically injured and waiting for us to extricate them. Reciprocating saws should have a spare blade duct taped to the top of the saw as a backup blade. As for turnout gear — is it worn? Who is wearing it? Someone has to be ready to fight fire if you encounter a fire at the scene.
In addition to equipment issues, there are many other questions we need to ask ourselves as we assess how we respond to calls. For one, how do you drive to the call? Would you drive differently if a video camera was mounted in the cab and it would be aired nationally on TV? We should always wear our seatbelts.
These are just some of the basic issues and procedures that should be carefully considered and continually practiced prior to the tones going off at the station. There is enough inherent confusion at the scene that it’s inexcusable not to have a good sense of what tools you’ll be using and how they’re configured.
Work safe, practice like you play and never forget.