1 More Killed 3 More Injured: Flaw in Our First Line of Defense

By Dr. Burton A. Clark, EFO, CFO

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Firefighter Joe Torkos (LODD) was ejected from the Engine he was driving when it was struck by an SUV at an intersection. The officer, also ejected, and two firefighters were injured.

How many times a day do we, the fire service, fail to wear seat belts? How can we call ourselves a profession (volunteer or career) and a brotherhood and continue to let this happen? How can we tell a family that their firefighter is not coming home because the fire department seat belt policy was not followed or enforced? How many more funerals must we have?

In the past few weeks we have become very focused on PASS alarms. The headlines read, “Flaws found in firefighters last line of defense.” The pictures and stories of firefighter LODDs were included; very moving, very tragic. This resulted in a lot of finger pointing, chest beating, fire service organizational pronouncements, back peddling, explaining, and congressional interest. I will bet that money and investigations are thrown at the PASS alarm issue soon. This is all good. But! Who is going to get angry and outraged and bring national attention to the seat belt issue – the headline would read “Flaw found in firefighters first line of defense: They don’t wear seat belts” – the IAFC, the IAFF, the NVFC, the media, the politicians? I doubt it. You see, we can not point a finger at anyone; we can not put the blame on someone else or something else; so there are no headlines. Not using seat belts is our own fault; we have no excuse; we are the flaw.

I did not know Joe but I feel the loss. My condolences go out to his family, crew, and department. I let Joe down because I did not get to ask him to take the National Fire Service Seat Belt Pledge. The program objective of the Seat Belt Pledge campaign is to have 1,000,000 firefighters sign the pledge by June 21, 2007. (To date about 10,000 firefighters have signed.) The impact objective was that no firefighter would die because they did not have their seat belt on in 2007. Unfortunately, we did not make that impact objective. So it is amended to: No more firefighters will die in 2007 because of lack of seat belt use. Taking the pledge and wearing your seat belt at all times on fire apparatus does not take money, or equipment, or permission, or an investigation. It takes courage and commitment to do the right thing from firefighters, officers, the IAFC, IAFF, NVFC and all of us. We owe it to Joe Torkos, each other, and our families.

Please take the pledge and buckle up. Don’t wait for the headlines to use your first line of defense, which may be too late, because our seat belt flaw is deadly.

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