Inboard safety systems such as roll stability control that automatically intervene in hazardous driving situations is the best of three fundamental ways to reduce risk to emergency responders, said Ryan N. Pietzsch, director of education and training for insurance provider VFIS.

“Driving an emergency vehicle is the most frequent and potentially most serious risk for first responders,” Pietzsch said. “VFIS strives to meet the challenges faced by emergency service drivers by identifying new technologies, methods and best practices to help manage risk with our inclusive training programs.”

VFIS, formerly known as Volunteer Fire Insurance Services, released the latest version of its Emergency Vehicle Driver Training program (EVDT) in June. It offers hands-on and knowledge-based updates to teach both new and experience drivers modern tactics and safety skills.

Intersection incidents and rollovers are the leading causes of emergency vehicle crashes for ambulance and fire trucks. The VFIS EVDT course combines case studies focused on recent events with activities to enhance the relationship between cognitive functions and physical movements. This helps instructors and participants understand the real-world scenarios in which this training may be used.

Pietzsch attended the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Fire Service Technology Summit in Oakland, CA, where the new technologies used to monitor and improve firefighter health and safety was explored.

“We know how to reduce stress on firefighters from heat and dehydration,” Pietzsch said. “How about reducing the likelihood of an accident driving to the scene?”

RSC is an active vehicle safety system that automatically intervenes if a high rollover risk is detected. If a rollover threat is detected the system intervenes and assists the driver in minimizing the rollover risk by automatically reducing vehicle speed. 

In addition to excessive speed and shifting weight, another leading cause of vehicle rollover is oversteering after dropping off the road surface onto the shoulder of the road. Oversteering will cause the vehicle to rollover by causing the weight to severely shift from one side to the other or by the vehicle tires gripping the road at an excessive angle bought back off the shoulder.

Frequently, activation of RSC takes place before the driver is even aware of the need, Pietzsch said. The system uses sensors that can recognize the risk of rollover, he said. A computer then takes over to prevent overcorrection by the driver.

Other onboard safety systems supported by VFIS include GPS positioning, forward collision warning, lane departure warning or any combination of these monitoring different driving metrics including speed and G-forces.

Education and training is the second most effective way to reduce risk to responders, Pietzsch said. VFIS EVDT has been the gold standard in emergency vehicle driver preparedness since its inception in 1980. It has been distributed by the U.S. Fire Administration, adopted or recognized by most state training facilities and is in growing international demand.

“If we can’t engineer out the problem, at least we can train and educate folks,” Pietzsch said.

VFIS’ comprehensive driver training program consists of 12 to 16 hours of classroom work. Next, the students get their turn at using a simulator.

“Simulation should never replace actual behind-the-wheel driving experience,” Pietzsch said. “After the simulator, drivers move to a closed and secure competency driving course. It’s the opportunity for the driver to get behind the wheel in a safe, closed environment.”

Only then is the driver certified by VFIS as “proficient behind the wheel,” he said.

There is a third way to reduce risk to emergency responders – administrative control. It is the least effective of the three, Pietzsch said.

“Policies and procedures are only as good as the paper they’re written on,” he said. “Unless there is human interaction, there is no accountability.”