How ready is your department when liability issues occur?
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Sooner or later, your department will face litigation from the private sector when an apparatus accident occurs. It is important that your department's subject material experts, or the person(s) assigned to the training of your drivers, are prepared. Based on personal experience, I recommend that this person have several items in place.
The litigation team representing the plaintiff and your municipality's legal representatives may ask for the training and driving history of the person operating the apparatus at the time of the accident. Among areas covered are any courses and materials that were delivered during their initial probationary period, subsequent training related to driving, and any certificates awarded for course passing and completion.
Specific items include:
- Emergency vehicle operators course (EVOC)
- Coaching the emergency vehicle operator (CEVO)
- Apparatus inspection training
- Videos used as part of their initial and ongoing training
- Driver remediation for past issues
- Exams and step-by-step processes on how that person completed the requirements to achieve their current position
- Any standard operating procedures (SOPs) that relate to the fire department's emergency response apparatus
- Driver check-out procedures and ongoing training
- Any other applicable items unique to your department
All of these items need to be readily available for review on the designated day these persons arrive. Review and be completely familiar with the subject matter to the last detail — in case questions arise.
Be sure to present the appropriate environment to accommodate these professionals. Do a prior "run through" to assure all media will function properly. Go out of your way to make the environment comfortable, neat and organized. The last thing you need is for others to see disorganization and uncleanliness. Believe it or not, bagels, doughnuts, coffee and water go a long way.
It is extremely important to determine and document how well the apparatus involved in the accident was maintained and inspected. Was it meeting NFPA requirements? And more importantly, was everything documented? As the old saying goes, "If it hasn't been documented, it never happened."
How easily can you retrieve those records? If it was a faulty component failure that caused the accident, and it was not the driver's fault, establish how often that particular item was examined. Was recommended maintenance procedure followed?
Programs available on the market today make obtaining these items quick and easy — with the ability to search through thousands of records with just a few mouse clicks.
Remember, as much as you are trying to protect and work in the best interest of your department’s apparatus drivers, there is a bigger picture as well. You also represent your municipality, the fire department, your training division (including the cadre of instructors), and your reputation.
With all this at stake, there is no justification for not having stringent enough policies in place. Anything out of order can be picked apart upon examination. Detailed procedures and policies, coupled with complete documentation, provide the best protection for your department and people.
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