RescueDigest Reads: USFA Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative

US Fire Administration Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative


Are you tasked with leadership, supervision or education of firefighters, police or EMS providers that operate motor vehicles. All hands up? Great, then this document is for you! READ ON:

USFA Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative

From the introduction:

If you polled the public and asked people during which portion of a firefighter’s job would that firefighter have the greatest chance of being killed, most would likely respond that this would be when firefighters are actually fighting a fire. Incidents in which firefighters are severely injured or killed while conducting tactical operations tend to draw more attention and news coverage. The truth is that firefighters are more likely to die in a motor vehicle-related incident than during the course of a firefighting operation.

The same situation is true for law enforcement officer . Most people would likely assume that gunshots are the most common cause of fatal injuries to law enforcement officers. However, at the time of this report, vehicle-related fatalities were the leading cause of death to law enforcement officers in the United States for 11 of the 12 previous years.”



To reduce preventable death and disability from motor vehicle collisions the US Fire Administration convened meetings with every emergency service related agency that can be made into an acronym and they worked together to provide a unified standard for training and operations for emergency vehicles.

Topics include:

1) Introduction

Pretty much what you read above.


2) Statistics and Case Studies


The original “Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative” report (2004) reviewed fatality data related to fire departments . This report expands the data to include injuries and fatali- ties for fire departments, law enforcement and EMS and covers data available for the years 1992 to 2012, where available .

Case Studies

The numerical data and statistics on injuries and fatalities related to response and road- way scene operations give a sense of the magnitude of the problem . However, it is also important to review specific incidents in order to identify factors involved and show the personal side of these tragedies .


3) Common Crash Causes & Prevention

When looking at vehicle response crash data, statistics and case histories for fire, law enforcement and EMS, it quickly becomes evident that the causes of vehicle crashes across these disciplines are, for the most part, notably similar .

  • Intersections
  • Excessive Speed
  • Leaving the Road Service
  • Negotiating Curves
  •  Passing Other Vehicles
  • Unfamiliar with Vehicle
  • Inclement Weather
  • Poor Negotiation of Skids
  • Vehicle Spacing
  • Backing
  • Driver Distractions
  • “Siren Syndrome”
  • Fatigue
  • Seatbelts (not used)


4) Impact of Vehicle Design and Maintenance

Safety begins with the vehicle itself . It is incumbent on agencies in all the disciplines to procure and maintain safe and effective vehicles from which their members can do their jobs . While the vehicles will typically vary significantly between the services, the basic factors that go into their selection and use are generally similar in nature . Agencies must seek to select vehicles that maximize service delivery, are as safe as possible, and balance with the fiscal capabilities of the organization .

  • Vehicle Design
  • Restraints
  • Lighting
  • Conspicuity (coloring & reflectivity)


5) Improving Response-related Safety: Internal Factors

All employers have an obligation to provide the safest working conditions possible . However, once emergency personnel leave the stations and go on the streets, they are exposed to a considerable array of hazards . That said, significant reductions in hazards could be made if there is a commitment from both the organization and the individu- als serving within it .

Response Policies

  • SOPs
  • Prioritized Dispatch
  • Response Matrix
  • Alternative Response Policies for FD’s
  • Alternative Response Policies for EMS

– Training

Vehicle Occupant Safety


6) Improving Response-related Safety: External Factors

This chapter focuses on aspects related to response safety that are external to the daily workings of a department . The topics of this chapter are the DOT ITS, traffic signal pre-emption systems, Traffic Management Centers (TMCs), and the use of private ve- hicles to respond in an emergency mode .

DOT Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program

  • Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) .
  •  Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) .

  • Cooperative Intersection Collision Avoidance Systems .

  • Integrated Vehicle Based Safety Systems .

  • Integrated Corridor Management Systems .

  • Clarus, the Nationwide Surface Transportation Weather Observing and Forecasting System .

  • Emergency Transportation Operations .
  • Mobility Services for All Americans .

  • Universal Electronic Freight Manifest .

Traffic Pre-Emption Systems

Traffic Management Centers


7) Regulating Emergency Vehicle Response and Roadway Scene Safety

In addition to the necessary department SOPs discussed in earlier chapters and state and local requirements, departments/agencies need to be aware of and conform to relevant standards related to emergency vehicle response and roadway scene safety . This chapter will focus on NFPA standards related to the fire service and the DOT MUTCD, which applies to all emergency disciplines .

NFPA Standards

DOT “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices”


8) Roadway Incident Scene Safety

One of the leading causes of injuries and deaths for firefighters, law enforcement personnel, EMS responders, transportation department workers and tow truck operators remains being struck by a vehicle while operating at roadway incidents . Fortunately, the tide has begun to turn in recent years as responders recognize the staggering loss statistics that occur when operating on roadways and have begun to take measures to reduce the frequency and severity of these incidents .

Agencies That Respond to Roadway Incidents & Their Responsibilities

  • Police
  • Fire
  • EMS
  • Transportation
  • Towing
  • Emergency Management
  • Coroners / Medical Examiners
  • Haz-Mat
  • Animal Services
  • Media

Respecting Each Other’s Roles

Managing Roadway Incident Scenes

Roadway safety 

9) Summary & Recommendations

  • There must be continued effort at the local, state and federal levels to support research and provide new information on this topic to emergency responders .
  • Agencies that operate emergency vehicles and/or operate at roadway incident scenes shall use the information contained in these various research reports to strengthen their SOPs, training programs and incident operations .
  • Design all new emergency vehicles to meet, as a minimum, the appropriate national consensus standards for that type of vehicle . Use the information con- tained in the various research reports regarding enhanced emergency vehicle visibility, conspicuity and lighting as a guide to exceed minimum standards and improve vehicle and scene safety, where applicable .
  • Fully train all emergency vehicle drivers for each type of vehicle that they are expected or assigned to drive .
  • All agencies within a given jurisdiction must work together to ensure that roadway incident response roles, policies and procedures among the agencies are defined, consistent, applied and enforced . Interagency training sessions are useful for ensuring appropriate handling of emergency incidents .
  • Train all personnel who operate at roadway incident scenes to perform their roles according to local SOPs; mutual-aid agreements; and applicable local, state and federal laws and national standards .
  • Ensure that all personnel wear appropriate personal protective clothing and retroreflective vests or garments when operating at incidents on or adjacent to a roadway . The only exceptions to wearing retroreflective vests or garments are when personnel are required to wear chemical protective suits or SCBA during the course of their duties .
  • Thoroughly investigate all emergency vehicle response and roadway scene incidents to determine the circumstances and causal factors that played a role in the incident . This should include all near-miss, injury, fatal or otherwise unusual incidents . Use this information to amend policies and procedures, if necessary .
  • Use the NIMS-ICS at all roadway incident scenes, and ensure that all agencies and personnel operate within the command structure .
  • Develop departmental regulations that require that all emergency vehicles op- erate at a safe and controllable speed and that all members be seated and belted when the vehicle is in motion .
  • Ensure that all vehicles that respond to roadway incidents are equipped with the appropriate types and amounts of traffic control equipment and at least one retroreflective vest for each person riding on the vehicle .


WHERE TO GET IT: at Emergency vehicle and roadway operations safety 


While there is a huge amount of information here and much, much more available through the references listed in the Summary, not all of it will be immediately relevant to every agency, but it is all good to know.

Using this report as intended, this is one-stop shopping to see how many different aspects of emergency vehicle safety affect your operations. While there are surely sections of information and recommendations that will be both pertinent and timely for your organization, probably the greatest take away is how interconnected all of the listed factors are, as well as how important it is to understand the operations of the other agencies with whom we work.


It is important for the members of each discipline to understand both their own role and the roles of the other disciplines at the incident .”

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About romduck

Rom Duckworth is a dedicated emergency responder, author, and educator with more than thirty years of experience working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and private emergency medical services. Rom is a career fire captain and paramedic EMS Coordinator for the Ridgefield (CT) Fire Department and director of the New England Center for Rescue and Emergency Medicine. Rom holds a master’s degree in public administration, is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program, and is the recipient of the NAEMT Presidential Award, American Red Cross Hero Award, Sepsis Alliance Sepsis Hero Award, and the EMS 10 Innovators Award. Rom is the author of "Duckworth on Education," as well as chapters in more than a dozen EMS, fire, rescue, and medical textbooks and over 100 published articles in fire and EMS magazines. A member of the NAEMT Board of Directors, as well as other national and international advocacy and advisory boards, Rom continues to work for the advancement of emergency services professions. Contact Rom via