One of the main differences between law enforcement and EMS in our country is the varying rules regarding the necessity of driver training. Although you’d be hard pressed to find a law enforcement agency that isn’t required to put all its officers through a structured Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) program, the same can’t be said for EMS and fire agencies Perhaps this is due to the overwhelming dependence by many EMS/fire agencies on the hard work of volunteers to man the rigs, which is due in large part to small budgets and scarce resources. However, there are many reasons why your department should develop a structured driver training program, no matter the size or budget. Here are just a few:
The clear reality of the job we do is that a great deal of liability is involved at every level. When you consider the fact that the main ingredient behind EMS response is to head toward trouble in a vehicle that, by nature, has to arrive in a timely manner through the use of unconventional driving tactics, means the risk of a crash rises dramatically each time the siren and overhead lights are turned on. This risk, in the event of a crash, directly translates into liability should an incident occur during response or transport. If one such incident occurs, the focus will shift to the training provided to the driver of the rig to determine what—if any—driver training had occurred for the operation of that particular rig.
If you encounter this type of situation, will you be able to answer affirmatively that the operator of your rig had completed a structured, validated, repeatable, measureable and legally defensible driver training program? Will you be able to provide proof of the training given to the operator regarding the rig they were driving at the time of the crash? Will you be able to provide proof of the timeliness of the training window? Will you be able to prove you had an idea of the driver’s competency at the time of the crash?
If the answer to any of these is “no,” then you need to seriously look at developing a driver training program for any and all providers that may, at any time, take the wheel of your rigs. Otherwise, you’ll have little ammunition should a crash occur and you find yourself on the barrel end of a civil or criminal lawsuit.
Vehicles aren’t invincible, but if drivers aren’t properly trained on their own personal limitations, as well as vehicle limitations, the opportunity for damage to vehicles rises, especially in tight urban areas or inclement weather situations. If a driver has no idea of the physical parameters necessary to navigate a limited vision, box ambulance down tight streets because they’ve never been taught how to best do so, the chances for an in-service crash go up.
Similarly, if they aren’t taught the relevance of a high-center-of-gravity vehicle in relationship to cornering, the chances for an overturn increase. If they have no idea how to operate the four-wheel drive system on their rescue rig, or have never tested its operational limitations in a controlled training environment, the chances of them damaging the underside of the vehicle or getting stuck increase significantly. Many more examples can be listed, but each of the above situations translates to damage to vehicles that costs money that many departments don’t have. In such a case, the “pay now or pay later” phrase can ring true, so constructing a training program will allow your providers to see the realistic operational capabilities and limitations in a controlled environment, which will make them more confident drivers. It will also reduce wear and tear on equipment.
EMS agencies may have a lot of equipment, but it’s the people that make it run that are the most important ingredient. Any life lost due to a lack of training is inexcusable, and it’s incumbent on the agency to make sure the risks that can be minimized are. Number one on this list is driver training because the main cause of death among EMS providers is directly associated with vehicle operations, whether it be the driver who’s killed, the providers in the box, the patient, or all of the above.
Identifying Potential Trouble
In my work with numerous clients in the public safety, private and corporate environments, one of the main purposes of conducting driver training for employees centers on identifying potential problem drivers. These problems can range from a lack of any demonstrated proficiency behind the wheel, dangerous maneuvers and poor judgment, aggressive driving and even substance abuse issues. In many cases, unless a crash in the field or a complaint against the driver occurs, these problems may not surface without a controlled training environment in which to discover them.
Training can provide the perfect environment to identify problem behaviors and document them. This information can later be used to assign roles on the EMS rig as well as provide justification for remediation and additional training. As the saying goes, “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen.” So having a training environment to discover and address potential problem drivers will help remedy the problem as well as keep other rig personnel and the public safe by preventing them from taking the wheel in the first place.
Keeping Up with the Times
Vehicle technology changes at a rapid pace, and some of the vehicle systems on modern rigs were pipe dreams even just a few years ago. Because of this, it’s imperative EMS administrators be kept up to speed on these technologies, especially when it involves platform systems that can directly affect the ability of the driver to control the rig.
Even if your personnel has attended some sort of driver training some years back, having a regular driver training program will allow new and existing personnel to learn these new systems in a controlled environment.
Examples of this include stability control, traction control, an anti-lock brake system, “smart” all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive systems, hybrid and alternative fuel powertrains and lighting/siren packages. It also provides the opportunity to introduce new equipment, such as snow chains or winches, and it offers a structured learning environment that can be documented. So, even though the laws of physics haven’t changed, the way in which modern vehicles deal with them has, and an integrated and structured driver training program will allow for providers to learn about them in a safe, controlled environment.
Vehicles dominate our ability to do our job in EMS, but they’re also one of the greatest sources of peril and liability. The good news is that the reasons for having a driver training program discussed above can be addressed in a classroom setting with a few trained instructors and some vehicles, the bays at the station and a few hundred yards of the local shopping center parking lot or airport. They can be accomplished with a simple set of paperwork, outlining goals, objectives, procedures and some sort of measuring process. They can be accomplished using very few students, or by enrolling the entire department at once.
If you don’t have a structured driver training program, do an audit of your resources and possible training scenarios and get one in the works. It will pay off in the lives saved, vehicles preserved and problem employees identified. It will also keep your employees educated on what’s in your bays. Find the scenario that works best for your agency, if you don’t have a driver training program, get one. and ultimately protect you, your employees and the public much better down the road.