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18-year-old firefighter crashes fire truck in Unicoi County

Emergency responders are meant to assist the general public in their time of need. Responders are trained to be excellent drivers and it is reasonable to expect them not to cause further damage to persons or property. A recent fire truck accident in Unicoi County, however, is calling into question the ability of younger emergency responders to operate large emergency vehicles.

After an 18-year-old South Side Volunteer Fire Department firefighter had responded to an emergency call, she lost control of her 28,000 pound fire truck tanker. Tankers, which often carry water, require special driving skills because of the water can shift in the truck while moving. In this case, the firefighter attempted to regain control, but she overcorrected and crashed.

Tennessee regulations allow for individual fire departments to determine who can and who cannot drive a fire truck. There are state-wide requirements that the firefighter have two hours of annual training and that they can pass an exam, but Tennessee does not require, for example, a commercial driver's license.

The South Side Volunteer Fire Department is one of many departments that allow teenage firefighters to operate emergency vehicles. The department permitted the teenager to drive the tanker after she had gone through road training. She also was approved by a state training officer and the fire department chief.

While South Side allows younger drivers, some fire departments have more stringent requirements as to who can operate an emergency vehicle. Some common restrictions are to be at least 21-years-old and to go through an intensive driving training course.

The driver in this case had been travelling under the speed limit at the time of her crash and she received no citations from the Tennessee Highway Patrol. The South Side Board Chairman insists that the firefighter is an excellent driver and that she continues to be qualified to drive emergency vehicles, with lights and sirens both on and off.


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