Published Friday, February 20, 2009
| From the October 2006 Issue of FireRescue
Dear Nozzlehead: Could you send a message to your readers urging them to be careful on their days off? Seven weeks ago, my good friend, a lieutenant in our firehouse, was killed while riding his motorcycle. He was assigned to my firehouse on Ladder No. 2. All the guys at the station took his loss very hard.
Just as we were getting over his death, another firefighter was taken from us. He was also assigned to our firehouse on Ladder No. 2 and killed while riding his motorcycle. The deaths were six weeks apart.
The loss of our second brother left us all shell-shocked. How could two firefighters from the same station die in the same way six weeks apart? We'll never know the answer, but I thought it was important to write to you and solicit your help. I would like you to tell all the brother and sister firefighters out there that we must be just as careful off duty as on duty. These weren't line-of-duty deaths, but they were deaths just the same. I now know what it's like to lose close friends from the firehouse.
Whether it's line-of-duty deaths or not, it still hurts the same.
All of us at FireRescue offer you our deepest condolences. The loss of any firefighter at any time, for any reason, is a family loss, and we grieve with you.
Firefighters' conduct off-duty often makes headlines-and often involves pain and suffering. Although ol' Nozzlehead has never driven a motorcycle, I've wanted to. The idea of feeling completely free on the road seems pretty cool. I've even tried on those leather chaps, but that's a story for another column. My problem has always been the same one shared by all bike riders: other vehicles on the roadway.
So as usual, being here to provide a public service, I did a little digging around. Those of you who ride bikes need to understand that your chances of survival vs. a car, truck, pole or rock pretty much suck. That's the thrill, but it's also the risk. I did a little more digging and found that although single-vehicle accidents apparently outnumber motorcycle accidents, motorcycle accidents caused by other drivers are still very common. And although this isn't a "fire"-related question per se, so many firefighters ride bikes-in my department as well-that we might as well jump into this.
In the "as if you didn't know" file, motorcycles are harder to see than larger vehicles, and drivers often forget to consider your presence on the road. The easiest and most effective ways to overcome this: 1) Avoid blind spots and places in traffic where other drivers can't see you; and 2) make yourself very conspicuous-black leather doesn't have a great track record.
But some IICs (idiots in cars) are going to be a problem no matter what you do. I'm talking about the drug- or booze-impaired as well as the electronically impaired with their cell phones, music, etc. Be they drunk or just stupid, the dangers are similar: They don't see motorcycles for one obvious reason-they are hard to see.
The solution: Drive as if you cannot be seen. Drunken idiots come out in force at night. You know what I'm talking about-you've been on the crash calls. Not much good happens on the road after midnight. Drive as if the drunk, the drugged, the busy, the talking, the distracted, the elderly, the young, the middle-aged and the clueless drivers cannot see you.
Despite the decreasing numbers of highway deaths, motorcycle deaths nationwide are on the rise. According to studies, 4,008 motorcycle riders were killed in highway accidents in 2004, a 7.9 percent increase from 2003. Some causes for the increase in fatal bike crashes include a rise in motorcycle ownership, the elimination of many states' mandatory helmet laws and more inexperienced bikers on the roadways. Additionally, Americans purchased an estimated 734,000 motorcycles last year, a significant increase from previous years. Many of those were purchased by firefighters.
Some say we should blame the states that have eliminated helmet laws. One study shows an 81 percent rise in motorcycle deaths in Florida over a three-year period after that state rescinded its helmet law in 2000. Anti-helmet groups counter that more and more bike owners are inexperienced middle-aged riders without proper training. Yeah ... and?
This big rise in motorcycle fatalities recently caught the attention of Congress. Politicians have added $3 million to a federal transportation bill for a study on motorcycle crashes. Sheesh. I must have missed that e-mail.
Look, by nature, firefighters are thrill-seekers, among other things-we know that. And while one way to not get killed on a bike is to not ride a bike, we can't expect all bike-loving firefighters to give up their motorcycles. The other solutions include being sober, being visible, knowing the roads and where you are going, paying full attention to the roadway and knowing that at any minute, some clown could slam right into you, accidentally or intentionally.
Firefighter deaths rip out the hearts of so many folks. Using Nozzlehead's well-known "Risk vs. W.I.L.B.T.L.W.Y.M.*" formula may help reduce some of the tragic off-duty firefighter losses we hear about every day. On duty or off duty, we have to think hard about the consequences of our actions and who will be affected by them. Sometimes it's worth it, but most times, it's not.
Now, where do I get the $3 million to study my formula?
*Who Is Left Behind to Live With Your Mess?
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