Safety & Health

NIOSH LODD Report: Iowa Firefighter Ejected from Department Pickup Truck

On February 24, 2017, a 52-year-old male volunteer fire fighter died after being ejected from the fire department’s pickup truck. The pickup truck was transporting 3 fire fighters from a volunteer fire department to State Fire School training. The vehicle was traveling in adverse road and driving conditions due to a wintery mix of rain, snow, and ice. 

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Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies After Being Ejected From Rear Seat of Fire Department Pickup Truck

Approximately 117 miles from their station, a patch of ice/snow caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle on a four-lane divided highway. The pickup truck slid off the right side of the pavement hitting a soft grassy shoulder which pitched the truck into a roll. It rolled 2-3 times before coming to a stop on its roof (see Photo page i). The fire fighter sitting in the rear seat was not wearing his safety belt and was ejected through the driver’s side rear seat window which was shattered during the roll. Both the driver and the other fire fighter sitting in the front seat were wearing their safety belts. The driver sustained significant bruising while the other fire fighter suffered only minor abrasions. 

After exiting the vehicle from the shattered driver’s side rear seat window, they located the unresponsive ejected fire fighter and noted his agonal respirations and a weak peripheral pulse. The driver started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while a passerby called 9-1-1. The driver and other fire fighter took turns performing CPR until other emergency personnel arrived. Despite CPR and other medical treatment provided by both fire fighters involved in the crash and responding emergency personnel, the fire fighter was pronounced dead at the scene due to head trauma. 

The driver was transported to the nearest emergency department for evaluation. After being evaluated and treated for bruising, the driver was released that evening. The other fire fighter in the front seat suffered minor abrasions. He refused treatment on scene, but accompanied the Driver in the ambulance to the emergency department.

Contributing Factors:

  • Waiver of the department seat belt policy due to a recent surgical procedure on the fire fighter sitting in the rear seat
  • State safety belt law with a back seat exemption
  • Rapidly deteriorating weather-related road conditions
  • Traveling at an unsafe speed given the rapidly changing weather and road conditions
  • Lack of an electronic stability control (ESC) system in the pickup truck
  • Lack of highway pre-treatment by State/County road crews.

Key Recommendations:

  • Fire departments should ensure policies regarding safety belt use in department apparatus, or in personally owned vehicles (POV) traveling for fire department business, are followed and enforced.
  • Fire departments should prohibit waivers of department safety belt policies.
  • States should consider revising state safety belt policies to require all fire fighters traveling in fire department vehicles to use their safety belts.
  • States should consider requiring rear safety belt use regardless of age.
  • Fire departments should provide initial and periodic refresher training to all drivers on each vehicle they may be called upon to operate.
  • Fire departments should ensure fire department vehicles are equipped with electronic stability control (ESC) systems, if available.
  • Local roadway crews should consider notifying fire departments with roadway treatment plans before and during hazardous weather.