County drivers improve skills behind the wheel
by Jessica Loeding
Sep 14, 2013 | 1945 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County Fire Department Sgt. Cole Spears listens to instructor Dennis Huskins before driving on the safety course. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Bartow County Fire Department Sgt. Cole Spears listens to instructor Dennis Huskins before driving on the safety course. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Buddy Frasier judges how close BCFD firefighter Chris Cowart drove his truck to the white line at a stop sign. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Buddy Frasier judges how close BCFD firefighter Chris Cowart drove his truck to the white line at a stop sign. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Driver Richard Combs with the Bartow County Road Department puts his tires between tennis balls that lined the road to challenge his driving skills. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Driver Richard Combs with the Bartow County Road Department puts his tires between tennis balls that lined the road to challenge his driving skills. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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At 96 inches wide and more than 30 feet long, maneuvering a fire engine takes practice and skill.

Bartow County Fire Department firefighters for the past two weeks were among county employees able to hone their driving technique on a safety course set up at the fire training center in Emerson.

“We are checking the skill levels of our drivers, giving them the opportunity to drive the course that we set up for them. It tests their ability to drive through tight spaces, their ability to back, maneuver obstacles in the roadway,” BCFD Battalion Chief Bryan Keeling said. “[This type training is] extremely important. Our department is running 8,000 calls a year so the trucks are on the road a lot, we put a lot of miles on our fire trucks, so it’s important that we have people driving who are conscious about their environment and what’s going on around them.”

Based on the driver safety course established for school buses, drivers from the fire department, road department, transit and senior center, EMS and Extension Office all were able to spend time taking their respective vehicles through the course.

Drivers were judged by officials from the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, the insurance sector and other county departments. Each participant received a score — there was no pass or fail — indicating the level of practice and instruction needed.

“The main thing we wanted to know, we wanted our department heads to know which drivers needed skills in certain areas. The good drivers, of course, won’t need any work, but there are some folks who just need some extra work, maybe some practice and instruction on driving their type trucks or their type vehicles in their work environment,” Commissioner Steve Taylor said.

While safety was the focus, Taylor said insurance rates factored into the decision to host the course, which was held for the first time last year.

“It’s all about safety, and of course, insurance plays a factor in this, too. We want to keep our accidents down to a minimum as far as insurance rates go,” he said.

Dan Beck, director of Local Government Risk Management Services Inc., said his agency will look to use Bartow’s driver’s safety course as a pilot program across the state.

“This is a tremendous best practice. … It takes a lot of resources to put this event on, but I think it’s very, very valuable from a long-term perspective,” Beck said. “Historically speaking, safety is always graded based on trailing indicators. Someone will get in an accident. There’s an accident here and then everyone puts their resource there, and then there’s an accident there. This is a positive approach, so it’s preventative instead of reacting to things. It really gets the people out there; it’s hands-on training, much better than classroom training. It’s everybody aware. Most importantly, it makes sure everybody knows this is very, very important to the county, the county commissioner.

“… Hopefully there will be a tremendous amount of success in regards to results. I think immediately there is an amount of success from the culture perspective. It says the leadership is so very concerned with your safety they are going to spend this amount of resources.”

The county will host the next driver’s safety course in March 2015.

“We probably won’t do it next, but every other year, that’s what we are thinking about now because we’ll have the same drivers next year,” Taylor said. “Maybe in two years we could have some different drivers driving for different departments, and that will still let our supervisors know who needs help in certain departments.”

For the BCFD, the time spent on the course will count for training requirements, but more importantly, the skills translate outside the work environment.

“… It takes up a lot of man hours to put on, but we are hoping that will be offset by the training that everybody receives out here,” Keeling said. “If it gets them to thinking about their driving skills and gets them to wondering, ‘Can I do this better? What can I do to make it better?’ It will help them in the long run. This is stuff that they can take into their life outside their job, too.”