Fire Fighting in Canada

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Your Call: Goldfeder gets last word on seatbelt issue

In the March issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, we posed a scenario about a firefighter not wearing his seatbelt and asked how you would handle the situation.

June 6, 2008
By Steve Kraft

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stevekraftIn the March issue of Fire Fighting in Canada, we posed a scenario about a firefighter not wearing his seatbelt and asked how you would handle the situation.

I provided my response in the May edition, but due to the overwhelming interest in this scenario, this column has also been dedicated to this scenario. Here are a few of the responses we received.


District Chief Perry Hayward, Brule District,
Yellowhead County Fire Rescue, Alta.

In response to your scenario regarding seatbelt use, I would like to tell you what we have found to work in our station. We have adopted the buddy system, the same as for all other personal protective equipment. Before entering a hazardous environment, all members of a team check each other’s PPE to make sure that everything is properly done up. Seatbelts are another critical piece of PPE and when we board a truck, everyone checks everyone else to make sure their seatbelts are fastened. The truck doesn’t move until the whole crew is buckled in.

District Deputy Chief Tim Sparks Sr.,
St. Clair Twp. Fire Department, Corunna Station, Ont.

Your scenario of firefighters not wearing their sealtbelts while responding to or returning from a call is an ongoing issue for many departments. I will admit that my fire department had past issues of this nature but for safety’s sake, we have a good handle on it now! This safety concern has to start with training and education on the matter of the importance of seatbelt use and the consequences of non-compliance. We have gone as far as removing the seat-mounted SCBA from our engines and placed them in brackets in the side compartments. The fire personnel were more concerned with donning their packs on the way to the emergency; the seatbelt was a secondary issue.

Our apparatus driver/operator and senior officer on the unit are ultimately responsible for the safety of the passengers and this includes everyone buckling up before the apparatus moves! The IFSTA Pumping Apparatus Driver/Operator Handbook, 2nd Edition, 2006 (NFPA 1002) states this in its chapters.
If the offender of the seatbelt issue is a repeat offender than disciplinary action is warranted for the good of him/herself, their brother/sister firefighters and for the department as a whole: a shift off without pay for the first incident and put on file and there is no second chance – dismissal. Lives are at stake!!!


Dave Enfield, Fire chief/emergency program co-ordinator,
Salt Spring Island Fire and Rescue, B.C.

With regards to the firefighter not wearing his seatbelt, our department has a policy that no one is allowed to be on a moving apparatus without proper restrains in place – no exception. It is not the driver’s responsibility or the officer’s responsibility to ensure that the restraint is in place, it is everyone’s responsibility. Stories abound about firefighter injuries or death resulting from this practice. There are more rules and regulations, operational guidelines and mention in our occupational health and safety program, along with posters from fire service insurers that not wearing a seat belt is in total disregard for not only the offending firefighter’s safety but the effect on the fellow firefighters.
 
Imagine the effect on them if there were an incident causing injury or death to him while everyone else walked away. A second incident would have seen an automatic suspension if not a dismissal. Seatbelts, like smoke detectors, save lives!

Matt Pegg, Deputy Fire Chief, Ajax, Ont.

There are a few issues at play here that require the officer to draw upon his/her knowledge, training and experience as a leader to address effectively.

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The first time this occurred, the officer should have ensured that he/she fully explained the importance of wearing the seatbelt, explained the department policy relating to seatbelt use along with the legal requirement to wear and use all required protective equipment. Then, he/she should have clearly established and communicated the requirement to buckle up every time in future without having to be told. 

Mistakes are okay – repeated mistakes are not. If this occurs again:

Address the immediate health and safety concern – order him/her to don the seat belt immediately.
Immediately upon return to the station, the officer must formally meet with the firefighter in private and clearly outline the issue, explain how he/she has violated departmental policy and Ontario law as well as failing to meet the expectations that you previous established and explained.

Clearly explain that the firefighter is not only placing him/herself in violation of the Highway Traffic Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act and departmental policy, but he/she is also placing the officer in a position of adverse liability under the OHSA as well. Reconfirm the expectations; advise formally that if this happens again the issue will be moved up the chain of command resulting in the possibility of formal discipline; ensure there are no questions; and then fully document the details of the meeting.

Dave West, company officer,
Richmond Hill Fire Department, Ont.

Wearing a seatbelt may seem like a little problem that just needs to be addressed by verbally requesting that all firefighter(s) wear their seatbelts at all times when in the apparatus.  But as stated this wasn’t a single occurrence.  The first occurrence could have been a oversight by the firefighter.  But since it has happened more than once it must be addressed.  Due to the nature of the issue I would have a meeting with the firefighter and ask if there was any reason (medical or otherwise) for not wearing the seatbelt.  If there seemed to be no reason then I would explain that not only does our department have a SOP on wearing seatbelts it is also a Provincial law under the Highway Traffic Act.  Also under Health & Safety  as a Supervisor I as well as the Employer must take every precaution to protect the worker.  Due to these regulations and polices I must request that they wear the belt.  I understand that it seems like a small thing but it puts the employer, supervisor, crew and the individual and themselves at risk.

I would review all required regulations and policies and advise the firefighter that I will be documenting the occurrence and the steps for correcting the problem but it will remain at the crew level. I would also state that if it occurs again I am obligated to proceed to the next level and have a meeting with my supervisor.

I would then end on a positive note and state that I’m sure this incident was an oversight and that the regulations and policies are in place to protect all employee’s so they can remain safe and return home to their families.  On a personal note I would encourage them by reiterating how much they bring to the crew and how well they perform on a regular basis.


■ THE LAST WORD

Most of the replies were similar, the consensus being that all firefighters are responsible to wear their seatbelts and the officer has additional responsibilities to ensure compliance. I did receive a few replies stating that it is not the officer’s responsibility – it is the individual’s responsibility. Although I can agree that everyone is responsible to ensure they wear their seatbelt, the officer (supervisor) is responsible to ensure compliance, when a firefighter won’t comply on his/her own.

I cannot emphasize the importance of supervisors doing everything possible to ensure everyone goes home. Wearing your seatbelt should be a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you wear it? In our careers as firefighters, we have all been to car accidents and stood there staring at a dead body in disbelief, wondering why the deceased didn’t wear a seatbelt. If we think like that (and I know we all do), doesn’t it just make sense for us to wear our seatbelts?

Let me give Chief Billy Goldfeder the final word, because when I heard him say this, it really hit home. He said, “Don’t wear your seatbelt for me. Don’t wear it for the chief of your department. Wear it for the people that are in your wallet.” His comments were simple but profound. Most of us have pictures of our spouse, kids, parents and loved ones in our wallets. Wear your seatbelt for them because they expect you to come home after every run. They certainly don’t expect mom or dad to be tragically injured or killed just because they were too stubborn to wear a seatbelt. So, the next time you see someone who doesn’t have a seatbelt on, just ask “Who’s in your wallet?”


Here’s the next scenario:

For several weeks you have noticed a firefighter constantly badmouthing directives, other staff, and the latest policy and procedure changes that just came down from the chief. Everyone knows this firefighter has nothing nice to say about anyone. He is known as Mr. Negative. As an officer, how are you going to deal with this firefighter, considering he is a member of your crew/division?



Steve Kraft is the deputy chief and a 19-year member of the Richmond Hill Fire Department. He has completed the certificate in fire service leadership though Dalhousie University and is a graduate
of the fire protection technologist course at the Ontario Fire College. He is a certified Community Emergency Management co-ordinator and is enrolled in Western University, where he is completing his
diploma in public administration.


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