Emergency Vehicle Liability: What Every Responder Should Know About the Law

By Ron O’Keefe

By Ron O’Keefe

Across the country, recent news stories bear headlines such as these when reporting on motor vehicle collisions involving emergency responders:

  • • Fireman charged in fatality
  • • Charges against firefighter dismissed
  • • Family of fallen firefighter sues town

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 34 percent of firefighter deaths in 2004 occurred while responding to or returning from alarms.1

Reducing Fatality Risk
Communities can take several proactive approaches toward reducing their risk for driving fatalities or incidents involving emergency responders. First, establish comprehensive, up-to-date policies or standard operating procedures (SOP). Your SOPs should follow local and nationally recognized laws and standards and be communicated to your employees as the governing principals of your organization. In addition to becoming familiar with your SOPs, Emergency Vehicle operators should regularly review and have a good working knowledge of both N.H RSA 265:8, Emergency Vehicle Rules of the Road, and the National Fire Protection Association Standard 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, Chapter Six, Fire Apparatus, Equipment, and Drivers/Operators.

Secondly, comprehensive training should be conducted with all employees to educate them on the department’s SOPs plus other applicable laws regarding responding to emergencies. This top-down, bottom-up training should apply to all staff—whether you are driving a 40-foot, 19-ton aerial ladder truck, an incident commander’s SUV or your personal vehicle to and from emergencies.

The third approach to help reduce fatality risk is to review all vehicle collisions and near misses. Whether done by your department’s Safety Committee or your community’s Joint Loss Management Committee, incident reviews and recommendations to prevent future incidents are imperative. Remember, the State of New Hampshire’s Department of Labor requires communities with five or more employees to have a working joint loss management committee for reviewing workplace accident and injury data and recommending control measures to those most able to implement them.2

Upcoming EVL Trainings
Three programs offered by New Hampshire Local Government Center’s (LGC) Risk and Health Management Department are specifically designed to educate emergency responders in the hazards of driving and provide useful information on driving habits and operating emergency vehicles. These training sessions are: Emergency Vehicle Liability, Coaching the Emergency Vehicle Operator, and the Commercial Driver’s License program.

During 2006, LGC’s Risk and Health Management Team will provide six regionally based, eight-hour Commercial Driver’s License programs, which specifically feature Emergency Vehicle Liability training. Each class is limited to 35 attendees, and Public Works employees are encouraged to participate. Classes are held from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and include lunch.

  • Date, Location
  • February 4, Hanover Fire Department
  • April 8, New Hampshire Fire Academy, Concord
  • June 3, Newington Fire Department
  • August 5, Colebrook Fire Department
  • October 7, Conway Fire Department
  • November 4, Meadowood Fire Department, Fitzwilliam

To obtain more information or schedule a program, please contact your LGC Risk and Health Management Representative directly or call 800.852.3358.

Ron O’Keefe is a Risk Management Representative of New Hampshire Local Government Center and a retired Fire Chief.

1.NFPA Journal® Magazine, July/August 2005, Vol. 99, No. 4
2. State of New Hampshire Department of Labor Administrative Rules for Safety Programs and Joint Loss Management Committees, Chapter RSA. 281-A