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I-Team explores fire truck driver training after deadly Westport crash

fire truck simulator training
Posted at 4:36 PM, Sep 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-21 19:28:07-04

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The KSHB 41 I-Team is diving into the training process and requirements for fire truck drivers.

It's been nine months since the deadly Westport crash. Three people died after a KCFD pumper truck and SUV collided in December.

The fire truck had lights and sirens on when it entered the intersection with a red light. The SUV had a green light.

There's an investigation going on to see if there will be criminal charges. There are also civil lawsuits filed against the city, fire department, and the fire truck driver, Dominic Biscari.

One claim is that the driver was negligent. Another claim is that training, supervision or policy wasn't up to par.

Since there are lawsuits and an open investigation, KCFD said they cannot comment.

Behind the scenes training with another department

To get an in-depth look at what it takes to get behind the wheel, the I-Team went to a similar training in Kansas City, Kansas.

"It's definitely a lot different than driving a personal vehicle for sure," Adam Svejda said.

The I-Team spoke with 23-year-old Svejda, who is a recruit for the Kansas City, Kansas, Fire Department.

His training includes going behind the wheel of a fire truck simulator. In one scenario, he responded to a medical emergency during foggy conditions.

The simulator is brought in from the Kansas Fire and Rescue Training Institute at the University of Kansas.

Mike Cook is an instructor at the KU Fire and Rescue Training Institute. He weighed in on some of the challenges fire fighters face while driving pumpers.

“Intersection is the most dangerous part of our job because people will wait and wait, and then they’ll pull out in front of you. We assume we have the right of way; we don’t," Cook said. "Not until it’s safe can we proceed through, because most of our accidents do happen at the intersections."

Cook explained what fire truck drivers should do if they approach an intersection with a red light.

“You come up, you stop," he said. "You make sure that all those drivers can see you before you proceed through because if you come up and assume they’re going to stop, that one assumption can cause you to be in an accident."

The simulator gets recruits mentally prepared for what they may face including driving in the rain and the snow.

“We got some practice on the pumper here at the training center and that was about all I was going in with, so it was quite the experience," Svejda said.

The I-Team asked Svejda about the most difficult part of the simulator.

“For me, I would say the weight difference," he said. "Being able to stop the pumper and the ladder took a lot more braking than what I was used to."

Cook also told the I-Team about the biggest mistake he sees recruits make.

“Probably overlooking a little detail as they’re driving down the road," Cook said. "We all get used to driving every day the same thing and we lose track of a detail that’s out there."

When recruits go through the KCK fire academy, they get their Class B driver's license, which allows them to drive a vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds.

Assistant Fire Chief Scott Schaunaman said you have to factor in the braking distance of a fire truck.

“The weight of a fire truck is not gonna stop on a dime," Schaunaman said. "It’s not a Prius. You’re not going to be able to stop just like that."

The I-Team asked Schaunaman how difficult it is to drive a pumper truck.

“Well, I think there’s a comfort level. Difficulty in the beginning, it’s just comfort behind it," he said. "If anybody has gone from a small car to driving a suburban, there’s just that adjustment."

“Not everyone stops at a red light. That’s something I learned today. Just watching out for everything that could possibly go wrong," Svejda said.

The fire truck simulator is just one portion of the training for recruits. In KCK, recruits also complete an emergency vehicle operator course using an ambulance.

The fire department told the I-Team a firefighter has to be on the job more than a year, pass a series of tests and get approval from supervisors before they can become an extra driver of a fire truck.

To become promoted to a driver, the assistant fire chief said you have to be a firefighter for at least five years in the fire department.