Vehicle placement and ommission

 

The incident that injured one of our firefighters, put him in the hospital for nearly 5 months and changed his life forever, was investigated by the Major Accident Investigation Team, a division of the Washington State Patrol.

 

For what it’s worth, here is an opinion of a review of the report.

 

I find it interesting that the conclusions seem to wholly exonerate the actions of employees, and fire departments, of oversight or negligence of any sort in their failure to follow documented policy, extensive training, common sense and basic safe practices.

 

While the loss of vehicle control of Mr. Perez was the turning point for the injuries to our Firefighter, the failure to take the 10 seconds needed to back Engine 66 into a block position while Engine 73 was on scene proved near fatal for the driver of Engine 66.

 

The investigation whitewashes guidelines for backing a fire truck up by leaving the reader to assume the practice should never be used, even in circumstances where the action can be done safely, and would result in making the scene safe for responders and victims, as required by policy.

 

Failure on the part of the investigator to mention, or even observe, two obvious and key elements that were not done condones negligence and jeopardizes future scene actions.

 

Paramount is the fact that there were no active calls requiring Engine 73 to leave the scene that morning. Indeed, Engine 73 was the responding vehicle after the injuries were reported.

 

By not even mentioning the possibility of taking advantage of using Engine 73 to simply move onto the shoulder to a position of blocking the scene appears to the common reader to be, if not merely an omission, then intentional on the part of the investigator.

 

By not even mentioning the possibility of taking advantage of using Engine 73 to remain on scene for an additional 10-15 seconds while Engine 66 backed up 65 feet to block the scene appears to the common reader to be, if not merely an omission, then intentional on the part of the investigator.

 

 

From the Major Accident Investigation Team report, page 14:

Fire Engine Placement Analysis – Engine 66 parked facing southbound completely on the right shoulder just past the Ranger. A pre-collision vehicle motion diagram was completed to determine engine placement and protection. Engine placement should protect the scene by providing a physical barrier to protect the work area from traffic approaching. Analysis determined if Engine 66 parked 66-feet prior (north) to its point of rest, then the Jimenez Perez Blazer would have hit the truck. This would have required the fire personnel to likely create a major hazard by backing on the interstate. By comparison, at 100 feet behind engine 66, it is likely Engine 73 would have been parked in the glide path and clipped by Jimenez Perez as he slid out of control.

(emphasis added)

 (The whole report is over 700 pages long.  MAIT 11-017503)

 

On November 20, 2011, a firefighter made a very bad decision that placed not only himself, but two other firefighters at risk of life and injury. The fact that he was the only one severely injured does not make him a hero, it merely makes him the unlucky one.

 

He was driving the fire truck that he then parked in such position that he left the scene wide open to vehicle traffic traveling at freeway speeds on an icy night with restricted visibility in November 2011. All these conditions were known when he parked his vehicle. Further, after realizing the overturned vehicle was unoccupied, he additionally chose to risk life and limb to place warning tape around the crash.

Engine 73 was initially parked in a position that blocked the scene, and provide protection while Engine 66 backed up to safely protect the scene should Engine 73 be called to another response. But, even though no calls were imminent, Engine 73 was ‘cleared’ to leave UNPROTECTED.

 

Ample time was available to move fire Engine 66 to a blocking position, as dictated by training and required by policy, but who decided it was not worth the effort?

 

Three firefighters on the scene further allowed Engine 73, the second fire truck that responded, to leave the scene, which could have acted as a safety block, and return to service. Records show that there were no pending calls at that time thus no immediate need for Engine 73 to leave.

 

In the desire for expediency, knowing the overturned truck they were responding to was a spinout, their own vehicle had experienced icy conditions, and all three knowing that Engine 66 was not parked in a safe block fashion, not one of the responding firefighters thought to keep an eye open for possible vehicle traffic at a non-victim scene.

 

Department policy clearly reads that the use of your service vehicle as a safety block to traffic is standard protocol. Training consistently reminds every fire department employee of the deadly hazards of the job and to do the job safely.

 

So when an investigation conducted by a supposedly impartial outside agency clearly shows the multiple opportunities that night for responders and the responding fire departments to use safe work practices but instead shows they failed, but summarily dismisses that failure, people are asking why?

 

And why the expert MAIT investigator felt compelled to whitewash these facts. And why not? Who would call him out for clearing a firefighter of any wrong doing?

 

Had this trained firefighter taken the few seconds necessary to ensure the safety of himself and his crew, this firefighter would not have been injured and investigation would not have been needed.

 

But the public expects accountability from our employees, elected or hired to protect us. This report does not meet that standard of expectation.

 

I am not in any way advocating for any punishment beyond what this man has suffered, but I find it disingenuous that an investigation would deliberately mislead the public and put future firefighter operations at risk in the manner this report does.

 

A trained firefighter makes a decision in the name of expediency and with total disregard for his safety and the safety of his fellow workers which jeopardizes lives, and the agency in charge of the investigation exonerates him and his department of any responsibility.

 

At the very least, a reasonable person would expect a deeper review of the facts in this case and that those acts be viewed and investigated without the goal of making an injured firefighter a hero for putting himself and others at risk.

 

Yes, Mr. Perez lost control of his vehicle and his actions are not excusable. But then neither are the actions of the firefighter. Or the others we entrust with our lives.

 

This is merely my opinion.

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