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EMS Corner
Reflective Clothing and Ground Operations

Much has been stated over the years about visibility, especially visibility at night. The ability of the public to see our apparatus is difficult at best. Despite all of the gumballs and strobes flashing, they still can not see us, they say. Then they drone on and on about the color of the rigs.? So, we tried changing the color. Then our aerial ladders got called the "big banana" when we painted them the requested yellow.? Still not happy??? OK, how about lime green.....hmmm, no. Let's see, we have tried white. "Ya want nuts on top of that cone kid or do ya want it plain?" All kidding aside, the issue of visibility is real and it is not just apparatus, it's personnel as well and much has been stated recently as to how our men and women should be dressed ON the scene to protect them when they are performing their duties. They need to be seen, especially during the initial phases of the operation.

For many years we have placed reflective tape and reflective material on our turn-out gear to be able locate each other on scene and in smoky environments when trapped and searching for missing individuals or just to "see" one another. These methods have served us well and have given us reasonable protection in the case of "lost" scenarios.? Yet we continue to utilize or favorite dark uniforms. At night, if we happen to not be wearing our heavy turnouts (let's face it, not all operations require full turnouts) we are a little difficult to see. Now factor in the public, who does not pay attention, is always looking somewhere else, (at the emergency, the fire, the wreck, whatever) playing with their cell phone, lighting a cigarette, groping the girlfriend, or WHATEVER. The one thing they are not doing is looking out for YOU!? More and more EMS and Fire Service providers are being killed every year by inattentive drivers and the numbers are on the rise.? This has been especially noted in the latest edition of the PHTLS and special caution has been given in the scene safety portions of the curriculum.

This is not just for EMS concerns. Fire personnel must also take note, and industry as well, as many of these extinguishment attacks take place from roads and other areas of incursion that flow to, from, and along high traffic areas. Granted some areas are more affected than others, but the issues remain unchanged regarding safety on scene and the protection of the brothers and sisters. Reflective coats/vests are recommended for all personnel on scene. That's ALL personnel. From the chief to the engineer, everyone wears a reflective coat/vest, even over turn out coats.

Jess Zerbe, a Paramedic Lieutenant for Marietta Georgia FD stated recently in a fellow publication (see Fire Engineering, PennWell Pub. 2006) that this issue, left unaddressed, is tantamount to negligence. He stated: Ensure your personnel are dressed to be as visible as possible. Reflective coats work much better than turnout gear. Responders can wear a vest over the turnout coat for increased visibility while maintaining the protection regular firefighting gear provides. One problem that isn't as easy to handle is limited sight distance.? It is only after we are safe, that we can carry out our jobs. The possibility of losing one of our own due to negligence is unacceptable.

The great thing about this safety issue and being able to provide visibility of an emergency responder is that it really doesn't cost a whole lot of money.? Vests, even the cheap ones, start around the $15-$17 range unless you want them personalized with EMS or other logos and even then if you buy them in bulk you can hold down the costs.? Jackets, depending on what you buy are going to run $45 upwards to $75 + again, what bells, whistles, and quality do you want. The point here is nothing in this area is going to break the bank and when it comes to safety, the upfront costs are always cheaper than the dollar amount on the back end.? If you don't believe me, just go ask your Safety Manager and have him show you the books on his latest loss.? Those are the scary numbers.? Negligence may be a strong term, but I would rather spend proactive dollars now than have to defend inaction later.

When I left Chicago Fire Department, there had always been talk about changing the apparatus color to something other than the traditional "black over red". The membership had always been opposed as the colors were seen as a tradition with the department. The rigs had always been "black over red", why did we need to change them now?? The administration had stated that we need to be "more visible" proposed a change. There was even some media coverage over the possible color (I don't remember what was suggested). The membership and the public were outraged about the change and ultimately the administration lost out.? The public did not want "their" fire department changed and the membership felt that "if they can't see us, they're blind. Hell, we're the Fire Department!"

So what will it take to get the needed changes for all emergency responders to be more visible on scene? Look for the simple solution that everyone with a "vested" interest can support and follow through.


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