Why Do Firefighters Respond To Car Accidents?


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If you’ve ever been driving along and seen the scene of a car accident, you’ve probably noticed that there are often firefighters on the scene. If you’re wondering why they are there, you’re in good company and it’s because they can add valuable assistance to save lives. 

Firefighters respond to car accidents because they are the best equipped and trained to handle these calls. They are able to use special tools to free accident victims who are trapped and they are trained as EMTs and paramedics to treat injuries in emergency situations.

So, let’s take a look at those reasons in detail before we move on to take a glance at the responsibilities for firefighters when they respond to car accidents. 

Also read: Why Do Firefighters Go to Medical Calls?

The Reasons That Firefighters Respond To Car Accidents

Once you understand the reasons that firefighters respond to car accidents, their place at these accidents becomes very obvious, indeed. 

Firefighters are not just extra muscle to be deployed to an incident but, in fact, they bring important skills to the accident scene which can save lives. 

The Volume Of Accidents

The roads are definitely the safest that they’ve ever been and according to the National Safety Council in 2018, accident deaths and the number of people who needed medical attention dropped compared with the previous year. This is good news.

The bad news is that nearly 40,000 Americans lost their lives in road accidents in 2018 and more than 4 million required some sort of medical attention after getting caught in a road accident!

Firefighters are uniquely positioned to help with car accidents, so, let’s take a look at why.

The Opportunity To Save Lives

car accident (rollover)

Firstly, it’s important to recognize the fact that a car accident will often have consequences beyond the collision of two vehicles and the injury of the car’s occupants. 

In fact, there are many other hazards that can be created in a car accident such as:

  • Car fires
  • Exposed electrical wires or arcing of wires
  • Damage of buildings or other structures 
  • Gas leaks, particularly from tanks being carried by the vehicles
  • Gasoline leaks from the tanks of the vehicles involved in the crash
  • Other situations involving hazardous materials

As you can see, many of these created hazards are very much within the remit of “firefighting”. Firefighters are responsible for a lot more than just putting out fires and car accidents are one of them.

Firefighter Medical Training

It’s also worth noting that the modern firefighter is usually, at the very least, qualified as an EMT and many are licensed paramedics. That means their presence at a car accident goes beyond attending to fire hazards and, in fact, extends to treating victims of the crash too.

Also read: What is a Firefighter Paramedic? The Job Explained

What Is Needed At The Scene Of The Accident?

When an auto accident is phoned in, the dispatch is usually made up of EMS units, a squad/rescue, and sometimes a ladder company too. 

When somebody is known to be trapped in a vehicle or under one, there may be a call for more squad/rescue units or for some very specific types of equipment that can help with this kind of issue.

Firefighters are trained to use special tools to help free people who are trapped in their cars after an accident. These tools can be hydraulic or electric-powered and are sometimes called the “Jaws-of-Life”. They can aid in managing the scene, extricating victims, controlling traffic, and medical care.

Here is a video of the Houston Fire Department performing an extrication:

1 Vehicle MVA with Extrication 01-17-19

There is, of course, a process that fire crews follow when arriving on the scene and one of the most critical is to identify hazards that are present – so that standby fire protection can be provided. 

If individuals are trapped – then minimizing other hazards is an even bigger priority. Crews are positioned so that they can defend any trapped people. 

If all personnel arrive at the scene at the same time, they will break their duties down by function, but if one group arrives prior to the rest, it’s more likely that they will take on priority tasks rather than their functional ones (unless the two overlap). 

What Firefighters Do At Car Accidents

When firefighters reach the scene of the accident, they all have specific roles and responsibilities to undertake. It’s impossible to detail all of these things (as they will vary from scene-to-scene and from accident-to-accident) but we can breakdown some of the key responsibilities. 

The Driver/Engineer Responsibilities

Also read: How to Become a Firefighter Driver/Engineer

It’s the driver of the first vehicle to arrive on scene that must take on the widest-range of responsibility he needs to:

  • Make certain that the apparatus he’s transporting is available on the scene and arrives in a condition fit to be used
  • He must institute a “safe response and safe arrival” process which identifies victims, keeps onlookers away and helps other arriving emergency vehicles position themselves effectively
  • He should position the engine, whenever possible, in a position which is both uphill and upwind of the accident site (this can sometimes be challenging when approaching an accident from one side and being blocked off by the accident – however, drivers are meant to consider this when deciding on how to respond)
  • They need to leave space between the vehicle and the scene of the accident in order to keep a safety zone and also to enable other emergency services better access to the scene
  • The vehicle should also be used to shield off traffic lanes so that emergency staff can work safely and that they can enter and exit the scene without harm
  • Consider the need for a hose line. Will they need one? Fire hazard? What happens if the incident becomes worse? Where is the nearest water supply? 
  • Consider the need for foam application – this is particularly true in the case where flammable liquids might have been spilled

The Captain/Lieutenant (Officer) Responsibilities

It’s not just the driver that has to take on responsibilities. The engine captain is expected to:

  • Work out what hazards are present (such as vehicle fuel, electrical systems, utilities, etc.)
  • Work out where the victims, how many, and how badly injured they are
  • Decide if more resources are needed to safely handle the situation
  • Work out what hazardous materials may be present or involved
  • Communicate any issues and needs for assistance with the relevant parties including up the chain of command as needed
  • Provide supervision for the fire crew to ensure that they understand their priorities and are getting things done effectively and safely

The Firefighters Responsibilities

hydraulic spreaders (jaws of life)

Also read: How to Become a Firefighter

The firefighter, as you might expect, also has a fair amount of work to do:

  • They need to don any protective equipment that is appropriate (particularly for their face and hands)
  • Many firefighters “double glove” which is placing a second set of gloves which are resistant to bloodborne pathogens beneath the safety gloves
  • They may need to wear a self-contained breathing apparatus if there is a possibility of any fire outbreak on the scene
  • They will stabilize the vehicles to prevent them from moving and to enable EMS teams easy and safe access to the victims
  • They may need to place foam lines if they find that flammable liquids are leaking or may leak
  • They control any hazardous material spills to try and prevent them from running into the sewer
  • They may need to disconnect the battery in damaged vehicles
  • They need to verify that the area is not charged if a power line has been brought down
  • Any gas lines that are compromised must have their feed lines secured
  • They may have to visit any surrounding areas to check for damage to utility lines, buildings, etc. and any damage that was caused by the accident or resulting leaks
  • They are also to assist EMS or rescue companies as the need arises

The most important thing when firefighters are working on the scene of a car accident is to establish who is responsible for what and in what order of priority. The system of organization that is used to manage these and other calls is called ICS or Incident Command System. Without this, there is a risk of confusion, task duplication or worse, things don’t get done as they are needed. 

Conclusion

Why do firefighters respond to car accidents? It’s because it’s part of their job. Not only does having a fire engine and trained firefighting crew on hand prevent further accidents, fires, etc. but the firefighters themselves can offer additional medical skills and support. This, in turn, reduces the risks of lives and property being lost needlessly. 

Firefighters have a more complex role in emergency services than many people realize – it is thanks to their ability to multi-skill that makes them valuable when attending to car accidents as well as fires. 

Related Articles

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Chase

I have been a Firefighter in Northern California since 2012 and a Paramedic since 2008. My site is dedicated to helping answer questions people have about the fire service. I am passionate about helping to share what I have learned and assisting those who are pursuing a career as a firefighter. Thanks for coming to my site!

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