Seatbelts: Enough is enough. Buckle up.
On any given day as United States Fire Administrator, I receive an abundance of information regarding the nation's fire service. As one can imagine, some of the information is good — and some is tragic.
It is the information I have been receiving over the past weeks which motivates me to comment today regarding the use – or, more importantly, the lack of use — of seatbelts. It is a tragedy when we lose a firefighter to a fire; it's a national fire service tragedy and embarrassment when we lose firefighters from vehicle ejections.
This is something we can put an immediate stop to. Each and everyone one of us owns this problem. We are each responsible for the actions we take or don't take. We are each responsible for stopping these preventable losses from ever occurring.
Is riding fire apparatus unbuckled an act of bravery? What will you tell the survivors of a firefighter lost simply because they would not buckle up? What will the burden be of the survivors during future graduations, weddings, and other significant life events be, knowing their firefighter could have shared it all by taking the simple step of buckling up? As company officers and supervisors, how could you possibly leave a station without your firefighters strapped in? I ask you today as fire service members, what part of firefighting is so important that you must be unbuckled riding on fire apparatus? What part of the mission of the fire service is so important that we allow firefighters to travel (by fire vehicles or POVs) without being securely belted into their seats? A common excuse is that riding unbuckled saves time, but in fact ejection and actions resulting from lack of seatbelt use impede the missions of your departments.
Enough is enough. Buckle up.
Several weeks ago I received word that Dallas Fire Chief Eddie Burns, Sr. successfully led a department-wide effort to secure the 100% support of seatbelt usage by the members of the Dallas Fire Department. Over 1,700 employees of the Dallas Fire Department have taken the simple and straight forward national seatbelt pledge to ensure that each and every member of the Dallas Fire Department is safely secured to moving fire apparatus. My sincere congratulations to the members of the Dallas Fire Department and to Chief Burns for this achievement.
Just yesterday I learned that Frederick County, Maryland has also achieved their 100% seatbelt pledge commitment. They join the growing ranks of departments that have achieved 100%. Given the recent actions of the Dallas Fire Department, Frederick County Fire Department, and others including the IAFC Board of Directors, the staff here at the USFA has taken the pledge as well. We do not have fire apparatus here at USFA; we do however have a dedicated staff traveling back and forth from Washington, DC in official vehicles and involved with national response efforts of FEMA. Just as important, a significant number of USFA staff also volunteer in local fire and EMS departments.
I am pleased to announce that the Canadian Fire Services have also joined this effort.
When I heard the news of these and so many other departments now taking the pledge, I knew immediately there was no department in this nation — or Canada — that could not take this simple step to improve firefighter safety.
As many of you already know, and many others should know, firefighter Christopher Brian Hunton, age 27, was a member of the Amarillo Texas Fire Department for one year. On April 23, 2005 he fell out of his fire truck responding to an alarm; he died two days later from his injuries. Brian was not wearing his seat belt. It is in his name — and in the names of others who suffered a similar fate — that we continue to work to ensure all firefighters buckle up. It requires such little effort to ensure all firefighters go home at the end of the day and not become victims of this preventable death.
This is the second time I have addressed this issue with the fire service through the Chief's Corner, yet people keep dying, in part due to their not wearing a seat belt. In my opinion, each and every one of these deaths is preventable. I truly wish I could understand why this act is looked upon with disdain by firefighters. I would like someone to explain to me why they feel putting their lives, their fellow firefighters, and family at risk is a part of their job. Instead I continue to get line of duty death notifications where firefighters have made the conscious decision to risk everything and not wear their seatbelt.
Buckle up and take an extra moment to make sure your fellow firefighters are also.
U.S. Fire Administrator