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Road Safety Week: The critical role of firefighters

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As the industry marks Road Safety Week (19-25 November), IFSJ looks at the critical role of firefighters in road safety

Firefighters play an essential and multifaceted role in road safety, especially during accidents.

Their expertise extends far beyond merely extinguishing fires, encompassing a wide array of emergency response activities that are crucial for safeguarding lives and properties.

Firefighters at accident scenes

When a car accident occurs, firefighters are among the first to respond.

They bring specialised tools and training to the scene, enabling them to free trapped victims using devices like the “Jaws-of-Life”.

Moreover, their training as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics allows them to provide immediate medical care to the injured​​​​​​.

Beyond addressing the immediate needs of accident victims, firefighters also manage numerous other hazards at the scene.

These can include car fires, exposed electrical wires, structural damage, gas leaks, and hazardous material situations​​.

Their presence at an accident site is not just about fire hazards but extends to treating crash victims, ensuring their valuable multi-skilled capability is effectively utilised​​​​.

Organisational effectiveness

A well-structured approach is vital for the efficient management of accident scenes.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is employed to assign responsibilities and prioritise tasks, avoiding confusion and ensuring that all necessary actions are taken promptly and safely​​.

This system is crucial in establishing a clear command structure and operational procedure at the accident site.

Roles and responsibilities

The roles of firefighters at an accident scene are diversified and critical.

The driver of the first arriving vehicle takes on a wide range of responsibilities, including ensuring the vehicle’s readiness, positioning it strategically for safety and efficiency, and possibly deploying foam in case of fuel spills​​.

The engine captain assesses the hazards, evaluates the victims’ conditions, decides on additional resources, and supervises the crew.

Meanwhile, firefighters wear appropriate protective gear, stabilise vehicles, control hazardous material spills, and assist other emergency services as needed​​.

Firefighters and road safety initiatives

The US Fire Administration and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) are actively involved in improving road safety for emergency responders.

The initiatives include promoting the “Slow Down, Move Over” campaign, providing guidelines for safe emergency vehicle operations, and enhancing traffic incident management systems​​​​​​​​​​.

The IAFF, in collaboration with the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services (iWomen), has launched a campaign focusing on emergency vehicle safety.

This campaign is designed to raise awareness, educate members on factors leading to accidents involving apparatus, and propose strategies to improve the overall safety of emergency responders on roadways​​​​.

Winter challenges

Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) Area Commander Suzanne Fleming notes the increased risk of road traffic collisions in the winter months: “Our Firefighters are regularly called to attend road traffic collisions to rescue people trapped inside their vehicles.

“Along with our colleagues in other emergency services we witness first-hand the carnage on our roads and the lives completed destroyed as a consequence.

“During this time of year, we are faced with challenging weather and road conditions, such as flooding and black ice, that can lead to more collisions on our roads.

“As road users, we all have a personal responsibility to do all we can to ease the pain, loss and suffering to individuals, families and communities caused by road traffic collisions.

“We are urging you to drive to the road conditions, don’t speed, allow more time for your journey and don’t get distracted when driving.”

IFSJ Comment

The integral role of firefighters in road safety is a testament to their versatility and dedication.

Their swift and skilled response to accidents not only saves lives but also mitigates further hazards, thereby playing a crucial role in road safety.

These efforts are complemented by strategic initiatives and training programs, enhancing their effectiveness in crisis situations.

The continuous evolution of their roles and the adoption of advanced safety measures highlight the importance of firefighters in our society, particularly during road emergencies.

Their contribution goes beyond firefighting, encompassing a broader spectrum of emergency services that are vital for public safety.

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