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Fire hazards

Oregon editors say

Firefighting contractors bear some responsibility for their crews' safety

The Oregonian

Each year, about 100 firefighters die on duty in the United States. Nearly half die, as you would expect, while fighting a fire. But somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent are killed en route to a fire or returning from one. That's according to a 10-year retrospective analysis conducted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Between 1990 and 2000, the study found, 22 percent of firefighter fatalities involved motor-vehicle crashes, a hazard of the job that may surprise many Americans. Sadly, Oregonians won't be surprised. We've already learned about it the hard way.

This year, for the second summer in a row, Oregonians buried young firefighters after a terrible crash. In 2002, five died in a van crash in which a young driver from La Grande ' just 21 years old ' made a marathon drive on a few hours of sleep. This past summer, eight firefighters were killed in a head-on crash near Vale. The driver had been drinking, and so had others in the van.

These young firefighters are responsible for their own actions and paid a terrible price for them. But in the case of both crashes, their employers bear heavy responsibilities as well. Supervisors of the firefighters in the second crash apparently knew some of them bought beer the morning they died.

Under Oregon law, this employer could now face charges, including reckless endangerment ' and should, if these allegations are borne out. With a decade of data about the hazards firefighters face driving to and from a fire, it's not too much to expect their employers to ensure they get where they're going safely.

— Not so fast The (Salem) Statesman Journal

Note to our fellow motorists on Interstate 5: The speed limit still is 65 mph for cars, 55 mph for trucks. It may remain so for a long time to come. That would be just as well.

Although Gov. Ted Kulongoski has signed House Bill 2661, there's no justification yet for pushing that needle higher on the speedometer.

That bill directs the Department of Transportation to study increased speed limits, if asked to do so, on Oregon's interstate highways. If engineering and traffic data show higher speeds are safe, the Oregon Transportation Commission can vote to raise the speed limit to 70 mph.

In other words, it's not a done deal. And the evidence has to be objective. None of that everyone does it stuff that cheapened legislative debate on the issue.

Even if it does appear to be safe to allow cars to hit 70 mph in some places, there's one big hitch in this bill. If the limit for passenger vehicles rises to 70 mph, the limit for trucks must go to 65.

No matter that trucks take longer to stop than cars. Nor that they often follow too close to cars for comfort.

The trucking industry finally got what it wanted, after Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed speed-limit bills in 1999 and 2001. But transportation officials have plenty of studying to do before HB 2661 translates into higher speed limits.

Until then, drivers should beware of putting the pedal to the metal. The speed limit remains 65.