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More Driving Lessons Unlearned

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This guest post was submitted by FF/EMT Ed Mund. If you would like to submit a guest post review the submission guidelines

Recent motor vehicle-related deaths of EMS crews, firefighters, and passengers, while tragic, are reminders of the same lessons unlearned yet again. Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of on-the-job deaths of EMS workers in the United States. Provisional data from the U.S. Fire Administration indicates that 10 of the 78 line-of-duty firefighter deaths to date in 2012 occurred while driving/operating apparatus and six more firefighters died while driving or riding in a personal vehicle.

Time and time again, we read NIOSH reports and learn the majority of those who died were unrestrained drivers or passengers. This is so sad and so preventable. Why aren’t we getting angry? Why aren’t we learning? Who among us has driven/ridden unrestrained, or seen a partner unrestrained and said nothing?

Significant Actual Risk

Motor vehicle crashes pose a greater risk of death to EMS responders every year than exposure to bloodborne pathogens. While we certainly do not want to diminish the danger or stop protecting ourselves from pathogens, isn’t it time we took driving more seriously?

Which danger receives more attention in your agency’s operating procedures and training? A fairly typical agency may have a 16-page pathogens policy on paper with annual refresher training. The drivers’ training policy – barely a single page. Refresher training? Maybe after you get a ticket off duty in your POV, if then. Are agencies underserving their responders’ safety and training needs?

What is it going to take before we take motor vehicle safety seriously ourselves? Apparently the likelihood of death and dismemberment is insufficient incentive. Should prosecutors start pursuing criminal charges against crews when intentional ignoring of laws can be proved? There have been some successful prosecutions in the last year, but all have rested solely on the driver’s shoulders. All it costs their employer is the price of a new hire in addition to replacing the crashed vehicle.

Incentives for Change?

There’s not much incentive for the company to establish and enforce training and driving guidelines when criminal penalties, including jail, would likely only apply to crews. They won’t affect the company unless the people in charge are also prosecuted. I’ll believe that can happen on the day I see a line of Wall Street and mortgage company CEOs in handcuffs in a federal courthouse.

If we as responders and our employers as our guardians can’t learn these deadly lessons, and criminal charges only pursue half the problem, then what’s next? The ultimate answer and behavioral change agent in our society always seem to center around taking away a lot of somebody’s money. So, rather than criminal prosecutions, maybe extracting great sums of cash from companies through civil action or withholding insurance coverage may be the best and perhaps only cure for MVC deaths. How long would it take for responders to buckle up faithfully if they knew any violation would slash their paycheck? How many companies would create, train to, and enforce driving standards if they knew their insurance company response to a claim could be, “You don’t have rules, or you broke your rules? Then you’re on your own, suckers.”

We follow specific guidelines and do verifiable, on-going training every year to prove competence and maintain certifications for EMS skills we may never use in our careers. Why not have written standards and do annual drivers’ training updates, competency testing, and seat belt use mandates? Otherwise, what are you going to say to your partner’s family, another victim’s family, or the plaintiff’s attorney after the horrific crash and its preventable consequences?