First after 31 years as a member of the New York City Fire Department I decided to retire a little over a year ago.  I had a terrific career I was blessed to work with some of the best structural firefighters in the world.  I was assigned to, two great truck companies in the Bronx Ladder 56 as a firefighter and Chauffeur and Ladder Company 27 as a Lieutenant.  The experience that I gained and the friends I made are something I will always cherish.

            As part of my career in the FDNY my last assignment was to retro-fit the FDNY fleet with Ready Reach Seat Belts which we have written and talked about extensively.  As the Ready Reach Seat Belts have worked so well in the FDNY there was an idea that perhaps we could retro-fit other fleets both big and small with this life saving technology.  However as of this writing it appears that this is not going to happen as the seatbelt company has chosen to pursue the new fire truck market exclusively and has given up on the idea of retro-fitting existing fleets.  This is truly a sad turn of events that will result in more firefighters losing their lives as they struggle to use the existing seatbelts in their fire apparatus or not being able to use them at all.  

            We have also written and lectured extensively about the firefighter Anthropometric Study conducted under the auspices of NISOSH the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.  The Study has just been made public.  Two NFPA (National Firefighter Protection Association) committees, NFPA 1901 the fire apparatus standard and the NFPA committee on Turn out Gear already have the information and documents have already been prepared as part of an effort to change those standards to reflect the new anthropometric data.  There will be more on this in the coming months as the anthropometric data winds its way through the NFPA standards making process.

            One would only have to watch the news or read about recent events to realize that Highway Fatalities and Injuries while using cell phones or texting are occurring with frightening regularity on the nation’s highway to the point of being a national epidemic.  These incidences notice we did not call them accidents as there is nothing accidental about texting while driving.  Just as there is nothing accidental about drinking and driving as a decision was made to do it, the same can be said about texting and driving.  Being a little naive I thought it would be unthinkable for anyone to operate an ambulance or fire truck while texting or talking on a cell phone and then I went on my favorite web site You Tube and there are Fire Apparatus Operators and Ambulance Operators being filmed by on board cameras texting while driving and talking on a cell phone while driving.  While neither behavior is acceptable it is texting that seems to be the bigger of the two distractions and the more popular particularly with younger operators.  How many times have you driven lights and sirens and have become personally unglued as an inattentive driver crosses your path on the way to a fire or emergency and yet we are doing the very same thing. If you are texting while driving the emergency vehicle you run a sustainably greater risk of wrecking the vehicle vs. a normal civilian operator doing the same thing.  It is sad to think that we have those in our ranks that would violate the public’s trust in such a heinous way.

            Some states have laws against cell phone use while others do not. In New York although we have had a law on the books prohibiting cell phone use for a new state law was just passed raising the first time fine to $150.00, 5 points on your driver’s license and after three convictions your license is revoked.  I recently completed an Emergency Vehicle Operators Course in the Province of Quebec Canada and was shocked to find out that Emergency Vehicle Operators were exempt from the Provincial laws governing the prohibition of cell phone use while driving.

            What does your state laws say as it relates to driving motor vehicles while using a cell phone in general and what do the laws say specifically about driving an emergency vehicle while using a cell phone?  Those are a couple of questions that need to be answered.  But more importantly what does your department’s policies state about having cell phones while on duty, using them or driving while using them.  Some career departments have a policy of leaving cell phones off in department lockers, other departments have ban cell phones on board the apparatus at all times and still others have no written policies at all. Many of those polices were first enacted when first responders were taking pictures of the victims that we are sworn to protect and serve, not necessarily for texting while driving.

What does your Fire Department Policies state about cell phone use in your organization?  What is the punishment if you get caught? How is the policy enforced? Who enforces the policy?  The Reality, cell phone use should be prohibited by any driver of any emergency vehicle period. The Punishment is easy the individual caught talking on a cell phone or texting on a cell phone while driving an emergency vehicle should NEVER be allowed to drive an emergency vehicle again.  That’s right a lifetime ban.  If you are a career engineer that could result in you being fired or demoted unable to perform the functions of your job.  Sound drastic maybe but necessary absolutely. Enforcement should be everyone in the fire department’s responsibility, knowing that if you do not say something and an incident occurs you could be injured or killed.  Fire Departments across this country need to enact policy and procedures that will help protect the motoring public and firefighters that ride on their apparatus.

            Finally a reminder to come join us at the great Firehouse Expo in Baltimore Maryland on July 16 to July 19.  I will be putting on an Emergency Vehicle Driving Program, the Apparatus Architects will be doing Two programs and Two Podcast.  So if you have a chance come to the Expo and say Hello.

Photo #1 Operating Fire Apparatus on a sunny day, with sun glare is hard enough to do safely. Texting while driving makes a bad situation worse.  This is extremely dangerous.


Photo #2 Look at the position of the operators eyes you can see he is giving full attention to the cell phone and not to driving the fire apparatus.  Once he looks up he is likely to be momentarily blinded by the lights of the oncoming car that is if he doesn’t hit the car first.

photo 2

Photos by Nicholas Wilbur


Firehouse Magazine Emergency Vehicle Operations

July 2014

By Michael Wilbur