National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Roadway Safety

Roadway incidents require special levels of awareness because of the variety of hazards that accompany the initial reason for the response. Every vehicle on the road, from those encountered during response, to those driven by the rubberneckers passing the scene, is capable of interrupting your efforts to arrive in one piece and mitigate the incident. The crews in this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report followed all of the right protocols, and as a result walked away from a potentially fatal encounter with a distracted driver.

“Late this morning, the rescue truck from our fire company was requested to assist a neighboring fire company on a substantial oil leak on a main, four-lane highway with a maximum speed limit of 50 mph. A delivery truck’s engine malfunctioned and spilled oil in one lane of the highway for approximately one and a half miles. There was already a large coned buffer zone established by units on location, as well as a deflecting lane block to the slow lane of traffic when our rescue truck arrived. Our rescue truck added an additional lane block and also deployed “Emergency Scene Ahead” signs approximately a quarter mile ahead of the buffer zone to signal motorists of what was ahead. At approximately 1300 hours, while crews were staging on scene awaiting the tow and cleanup agency, an elderly female, travelling 45-50 mph disregarded the “Emergency Scene Ahead” signs and struck several of the cones that were being used to close the affected lane. All personnel were wearing ANSI class II traffic vests and were staged well off the roadway in an open field. The female eventually stopped, coming to rest about 15 feet short of the rescue truck acting as a secondary lane blocker. It was noticed that the elderly female driver had a small dog jumping about in the cabin of the vehicle which could have added to her disregard of the traffic control devices…”

What separates this near miss from an actual hit? The answer to this question ignites spirited discussion. Incidents like the one described in this report fall on both sides of the line dividing survival and tragedy. Following established standards, regulations and best practices positively contributed to a favorable outcome for the first responders. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

  1. How many roadway incidents did you and your crew run last year? Did any near misses occur during those incidents? If yes, review the event and consider filing a near-miss report. If no, what factors would you consider important to the event being handled without incident?
  2. The spill described above is approximately 7,920 feet long. What resources would you need to muster to handle a similar incident in your response area?
  3. Consider your last roadway incident. Did crews congregate at the scene in the “safety zone” after the incident was mitigated or did they pack up immediately and leave the scene?
  4. During your next response, have a crew member note how many drivers are in a “distracted” mode (i.e., talking on the cell phone, texting, eating, reading the paper, etc.).
  5. What would you estimate your department’s compliance is with the federal regulation for workers to wear ANSI approved retro-reflective safety vests when operating in the roadway? 

Even when every measure is taken to provide protection, something can go wrong. It is the predisposition for human failure that strives to defeat safety measures put in place to prevent calamity. Skimping on safety provides a wider opening for human failure to contribute to a disaster, better safe than sorry now becomes more than a timeworn maxim.

Submit your report to today so everyone goes home tomorrow. For more on the benefits of firefighter near-miss reporting, CLICK HERE.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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