The Toledo (OH) Fire Depart-ment has taken several steps to make operations at motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) safer. We require that all members operating at the scene wear reflective clothing while on-scene. All bunker gear has reflective stripes. Every apparatus has been issued four reflective vests firefighters can wear if the incident commander (IC) says bunker gear is not needed because of the nature of the incident. Although we do not have a specific procedure for placing apparatus at MVAs, officers are encouraged to spot their apparatus in a manner that protects victims and firefighters as much as possible.
Toledo has experienced three incidents in recent history. An out-of-control vehicle struck Squad 7, missing firefighters by only a few feet as they were operating at a prior accident on I-75 on a winter afternoon. Another incident claimed the life of a retired police officer who was struck by a driver traveling at a high rate of speed into an accident scene. An off-duty firefighter was struck by a car while operating at an MVA; he currently is a civilian dispatcher for the department.
John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1977) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), a technical editor of Fire Engineering, and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.
Question: Annually, several firefighters are killed working at MVAs. Does your department have procedures to protect firefighters working on streets and highways at MVAs?
Leigh Hollins, battalion chief,Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: Realizing that MVA-related incidents are the #2 killer of America’s firefighters, after cardiovascular disease, we adopted a recommended operating guideline (ROG) a couple of years ago. One of our officers researched the information available in various publications and on the Internet and came up with what we feel is a comprehensive ROG to prevent firefighters from being struck by a passing vehicle while operating in the street at an MVA, a medical call, a vehicle fire, or other type of call. This ROG was later adopted countywide by Manatee County.
The main components of the ROG are to “block” with apparatus, have a traffic watch if available, and wear high-visibility vests when operating in the roadway.
Such a ROG is much easier to follow if your department has a positive working relationship with the local law enforcement agencies. All of the roads in our district fall under the jurisdiction of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP). The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office also assists with traffic control, when requested. We have had no real problems and have a great relationship with both agencies.
In addition, the FHP, because of its extended response times, has directed that local firefighters should have the drivers involved in MVAs move their vehicles off the roadway. If the driver is unable to move the car, the firefighters should do it. If the vehicles cannot be driven, firefighters are to request a “rotation” wrecker through FHP dispatch. This facilitates removing vehicles from the roadway and allows our crews to get out of the roadways more quickly.
Rick Lasky, chief,Lewisville (TX) Fire Department
Response: Our current MVA SOP is under revision. In light of all the recent injuries and deaths to firefighters related to operating at an MVA, we are examining how to further protect our personnel while operating at the scene. On an average day, our fire department responds to several MVAs, many of them on I-35E, an interstate that bisects our city. At present, when operating at an accident, all personnel are required to wear their reflective traffic vest or turnout coat with reflective striping, position their apparatus so as to block traffic and protect against being struck, work quickly and safely, and leave the scene as soon as their assignment is completed.
Some departments in the area send a second engine or a ladder truck to block for units operating at the MVA. Our police department responds quickly and blocks whichever lanes of traffic need blocking. But, even considering that, any department member can request at any time that additional units respond and block traffic. Also, in north Texas within the past year and a half, several classes relative to operating safely at an MVA have been offered for police and fire personnel. Our experience and several studies have shown that the more quickly a scene is cleared and traffic lanes are opened, the less chance there is of having our personnel struck.
Freddie Fernandez, battalion chief,City of Miami (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: Since Miami is such a densely populated city, it is imperative to get law enforcement in place early during auto accidents to assist with traffic flow and crew safety. We generally have a good working relationship with the City of Miami Police Department. Our police recently underwent training in the incident management system and are working well within unified command. On most incidents larger than routine accidents, the police department dispatches a sergeant who reports to the fire department commander and sets up the police branch of the operation. Our only difficulty usually occurs during peak hours or police shift change (generally during weekend afternoons), when there can be delays in response.
Another situation that causes some difficulties and delays is on highways that run through the city. The Florida Highway Patrol handles these incidents and, in many cases, has very long delays in responding. This increases the dangers for our crews, who have to divert attention from scene operations to blocking traffic. At times, we have trouble getting the proper location and direction of highway accidents. Calls from passersby on cell phones taken by dispatchers unfamiliar with the area can lead to delays in our locating the incidents.
Michael J. Allora, lieutenant,Clifton (NJ) Fire Department
Response: We staff our two basic life support (BLS) ambulances with two firefighter/EMTs. Our front line fire apparatus are usually staffed with an officer and two firefighters. For an MVA, we dispatch an ambulance and an engine company. The ambulance obviously is to treat victims; the engine company protects the accident scene by blocking the accident lane and one additional lane. The engine company assists the ambulance in treating injured victims, securing the scene from associated hazards (i.e., power lines down, haz mats, fires, for example), and calling for additional resources that may be needed. Many highways run through the city, and there is a high degree of danger from high-speed traffic and motorists’ lack of attention and carelessness (holding/talking on a cell phone despite a law that stipulates use of a hands-free device, for example).
MVAs in which occupants are reported to be entrapped receive a response of one BLS ambulance, two engine companies, and the chief officer on duty. Specialized equipment such as air bags and stabilizing struts can be special-called to the incident if the IC determines they are needed.
A few years ago, a firefighter from a neighboring city lost his leg in an accident while operating at an interstate highway incident. He was able to return to work some time later after receiving a prosthetic leg. The safety of all members should be at the forefront of our minds during response, while operating, and up to and including termination of the incident.
John O’Neal, deputy chief,Jacksonville (NC) Fire Department
Response: We do not have a written policy or written procedures for protecting personnel in traffic at roadway/highway-related incidents. Personnel are taught during their initial emergency vehicle operators course and annual departmental refresher training how to operate safely at MVAs, including positioning apparatus and establishing safe zones using the apparatus as a buffer between the work area and approaching traffic.
When incidents occur on the city’s four- to seven-lane highways, where the posted speed limit is 45 to 55 mph, our crews often work with law enforcement to help slow and divert traffic from the operations area.
Over the next year, the first four-lane, limited-access interstate highway is scheduled to open within the city limits. We are reviewing protocols and procedures in anticipation of the new challenges this highway will present. As soon as new procedures are developed, all fire crews and partner agencies will be trained in them.
Steve Kreis, assistant chief,Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department
Response: We have a very comprehensive SOP for operating at motor vehicle incidents. (A copy can be obtained through the Tactical Services section of our department.)
A few years ago, we lost Firefighter Tim Hale when a drunk driver ran into the back of one of our rescue ambulances while Hale and Captain Dan Donahue were loading a patient. Luckily, Dan survived the incident.
Our SOPs are periodically revised with newer/safer methods of operating at these incidents, and our labor/management Research and Development Committee is consistently evaluating new types of warning devices for members and apparatus.
Basically, our SOP states that our members’ safety is more important than providing for traffic flow. We always use our apparatus as protection during operations. The Phoenix Police Department also understands the importance of our safety at these incidents and works with us routinely to move traffic away from our operations. Every few years, we seem to come across an overzealous highway patrol officer who believes traffic flow is more important than our safety. In these instances, our company officers or battalion chiefs manage these events appropriately-in essence, we park where we need to park for our safety and discuss the operation afterward. This is not to imply that we don’t consider the needs of the police agencies at these incidents: We work with the officers to provide for our safety while trying to meet their needs when it does not affect our safety.
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,Fire Department of New York
Response: The greatest danger to firefighters working at an MVA comes from the flow of traffic near the scene. About 20 years ago, an FDNY firefighter was struck and killed by a passing car while operating at a vehicle incident. His engine was the only unit at the location. This tragedy led the department to adopt a requirement for a minimum response of one engine and one ladder company to every motor vehicle fire or emergency. This provided a second apparatus to block traffic.
Depending on the conditions encountered, the officer in command may halt traffic in one lane or close the entire roadway. This is accomplished by apparatus placement, police assistance, or assigning firefighters to place warning flares.
We require the use of flares anytime visibility is limited, unless there is a danger of igniting flammable liquids or gas. The flare farthest from the accident location is placed first; subsequent flares are laid out toward the rear of the apparatus blocking and protecting the scene. The proper distance for placing flares is determined by estimating the speed of passing traffic. At times, the flare farthest away is at a considerable distance. A car moving at 70 miles per hour, for example, will travel nearly the length of two football fields before it can come to a complete stop.
For additional safety, we also require that firefighters stand by at MVAs with a charged hoseline to protect personnel as they perform first aid, stabilize the vehicle, and disconnect the battery.
Firefighters face a multitude of dangers at an MVA. Undeployed air bags, flammable liquids, and hydraulic bumpers must be anticipated. As in structural firefighting, adherence to some basic safety procedures can reduce or eliminate inherent risks at these incidents.
Gary Seidel, chief,Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department
Response: We have an SOG, “Responder Safety-While Operating in or Near Moving Traffic.” Our approach is to always operate at roadway incidents with the mindset that “motorists are always looking for something to aim at, and that means YOU!” We advocate the 6 “Be’s”: Be prepared, Be aware of the environmental setting, Be constantly alert, Be smart in your tactics, Be safe, or you may Be dead!
Our personnel are exposed to a variety of hazards at every MVA, including motorists’ driving experience, credentials, and ability; road conditions (topography, terrain, construction zones, for example); weather conditions (rain, snow, ice, fog); time (day/night, rested/tired); visibility (driver’s as well as weather-caused); vehicle limitations or condition; motorist distractions (cell phones, TV, radio, passenger conversations) and driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medications; and medical conditions.
We position our apparatus to achieve the best protection for our personnel while mitigating the emergency and maximum protection to all emergency workers, victims, and other motorists using the roadway.
Among tactical measures we employ are the following:
Do not trust moving traffic.
Never turn to moving traffic unless you have a safety person covering you.
Establish a roadway “block” with your apparatus; angling works well.
Take the whole lane; never block traffic by taking a partial lane.
Wear all of your personal protective equipment (it’s reflective).
Have law enforcement vehicles establish an advance warning and a buffer zone, as well as a means to redirect traffic.
Use your emergency lights to your advantage, especially with today’s new technology.
Use advance-warning measures to assist-cones, reflectors, or flares, if safe to do so.
Consider limiting headlights or spotlights if they are creating an additional hazard to oncoming traffic. If that’s the case and they are needed to mitigate this incident, closing the roadway may be the only option and rerouting may be necessary.
Create an adequate work space: safety officer(s), protection lines or fire extinguishers, elimination of ignition sources, stabilization (incident, victims, and apparatus), the need for special apparatus and their ideal placement, medical considerations, and placement of ambulance.
Special tactical considerations apply when the incident occurs within a tunnel, a bridge, a limited-access area, or high-volume/high-speed areas. Here, the only safe option may be to shut down access. Fortunately, this rarely occurs; when it does, we try to do it for as short a timeframe as safely practical.
Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services
Response: We do not have a written procedure; however, firefighter and civilian safety is our priority. An engine is routinely placed between the accident scene and oncoming traffic. If the situation warrants, at least one lane of traffic is shut down until the scene is controlled. A duty officer responds when there is a possible entrapment. We operate closely with mutual-aid companies on highway accidents. This cooperation enables all companies to ensure responder and victim safety.
Craig H. Shelley, CFO, EFO,MIFireE, Ras Tanura AreaFire Protection Division
Response: Our department often responds off property to MVAs and fires. Many incidents occur on roads that may be secondary or tertiary in nature and are poorly lighted or have a poor range of visibility because of curves or hills. Weather conditions (rain, fog, sand storms) may reduce visibility. The tactical action guide, similar to an SOP, applicable to MVAs stipulates the distance between responding vehicles and the involved vehicles and that the fire apparatus should be used as a barrier to shield the incident scene from traffic hazards.
At times, our members become too focused on the incident at hand, get tunnel vision, and forget the dangers of the surrounding environment. We cannot let our guard down and should position one member of the team to constantly monitor the surrounding environment for anything that could jeopardize members’ safety.
Tony Tricarico, captain,Fire Department of New York
Response: We have very definitive procedures for protecting our people on the roadways. In the ’80s, a drunk driver killed Firefighter Tony Shands while he was loading hose onto the rear of his engine after a car fire.
A summary of our procedures follow:
A minimum of one engine company and one ladder company responds. The best way to prevent a secondary accident is to slow or stop the flow of traffic where you are working. The greatest danger is when there is light to moderate traffic volume, when motorists tend to exceed the posted speed limits. The higher the speed, the longer it takes to stop after the driver sees and reacts to the warnings you placed in front of him. That vital link, perception and reaction, could add quite a few feet to the total stopping distance.
It is preferred that the apparatus approach the incident in the same direction of travel as the incident. On highways, we are dispatched from both directions. If the apparatus traveling in the opposite direction arrive first, which is often the case, we are required to stop traffic in both directions, set up warning devices, and create a safe working area. We try to avoid working across a divider on the highways, but this is sometimes necessary. When we encounter such a situation, we operate until the apparatus approaching from the proper direction arrive and usually release the apparatus operating across the highway. That is in a perfect world; adjustments are made as each situation presents itself.
One thing is almost guaranteed: If you shut down the highway and stop all traffic, you will not be run down. I say almost because there are some truly unbelievable people out there, and they just may find a way around the roadblock.
The engine is to position itself uphill and upwind or in another safe position, depending on topography, weather, and hazard level, in a safe area from the vehicle. The usual placement would be to the rear of the incident between the fire/emergency and oncoming traffic.
The truck company assumes a position at least 50 feet “upstream” in traffic, blocking one or two lanes of traffic as needed. Distances are increased as the officer in charge sees fit; if needed, he will call for additional apparatus.
Once the truck is in position, a pair of radio-equipped members place flares “upstream.” These members place the flares back at a distance based on the fastest anticipated speed the vehicles on that road may be traveling-for instance, if vehicles are traveling at an anticipated speed of 40 mph, flares will be placed at a distance calculated as follows: add a zero at the end of 40, giving you 400; divide by 2, which gives you 200 feet.
The given formula will put the farthest flare 200 feet from the apparatus blocking and protecting the operating personnel. This is not the exact formula we use, but it gives a good starting point on placing flares, taking into account stopping and reaction times as well as the safe distance required to make a safe lane change. Flare placement distances are increased on a hill or curve, in inclement weather, or if smoke is obstructing visibility. These flares should be even farther from the incident to forewarn drivers that something is amiss ahead and they need to slow down. Increase distance as you see fit, taking into consideration reaction time, stopping distance, and weather.
Firefighters should acquire the required number of flares, light the first flare and walk back, facing traffic, carrying the flare pointed down and away from the body. Looking directly into the flare will cause temporary night blindness. Once reaching the determined mark, the flares are placed two feet off the curb into the roadway; the member then returns to the curb. The flares should be placed in groups of four to six, for higher visibility. The next group of flares is placed a little farther out into the roadway, about two feet more, a reasonable distance back from the first group. Continue until the lane(s) are closed all the way back to the blocking apparatus. The member placing the flares is to step onto the roadway only to place the flares and then is to return to the curb, off the road, and walk back to the area where the next group of flares will be placed.
Two members, equipped with radios, shall be used to place flares-one member in the road and the other to watch traffic and warn of possible danger. The lookout warns the member placing flares of impending danger and uses the radio to warn the members working on mitigation, if necessary.
NEVER place yourself between traffic and apparatus. Let the car hit the apparatus. Stand to the side of traffic to watch and warn other members, and have a plan of escape.
NEVER assume that traffic will behave as you expect it to.
NEVER turn your back on traffic. That’s the reason we use two people to place the flares, one is ALWAYS watching.
NEVER assume the flares will protect you. They are to warn drivers that something is happening ahead-they will be warned only if they are paying attention!
NEVER place flares at an incident involving a flammable liquid or a gas leak, where they could cause an explosion or a fire. Call for more apparatus to close the area down.
ALWAYS carry a flashlight. Directing the light in a back-and-forth motion may attract the attention of drivers who are not sure of what to do. Once you get their attention, you can direct them. Also, when under an overpass or in a tunnel, even in the daytime, you never know when that light may help you.
Josh Thompson, battalion chief,Avon (IN) Fire Department
Response: Our rule of thumb is to shut down the road completely when necessary. So far, we have met with little resistance from law enforcement. Sometimes, we open a minimal space for traffic to squeeze through, but only after everyone on the scene knows about it. To reduce the hazards, limit the time spent on the roadway. This does not mean we should compromise patient care or leave the hazard for the police. Get back in your vehicle if you are not doing anything. Increase the distance between you and the vehicles not involved in the accident (motorists). Some departments dispatch extra apparatus to stage farther from the scene. This is great if you have the staff. We try to maintain a good working relationship with the police and let them perform this function. Place cones, flares, flags, or anything identifiable to warn motorists as early as possible that there is a problem on the roadway. Shield yourself with large apparatus. Block as much of the road as possible; leave enough space between it and the scene so you can move and work. Everyone on the scene should be paying attention to the environment and spot for each other; all should be acting as safety officers for everyone else. There should be ample lighting for night operations. Make yourself as visible as possible-use reflective stripes/markers on your gear, vests, or anything that will make you stand out. It boils down to using common sense, following simple safety rules, and building a good relationship with your local law enforcement officers.
William Hellard, lieutenant/EMT-P,Rogers (AR) Fire Department
Response: We have not had any firefighters injured or killed while working MVAs, but we have had several close calls. Every year we require personnel who will be driving apparatus to attend a driver safety course. In this course, positioning of the apparatus at accident scenes is stressed. Proper apparatus positioning is the first step in providing for the safety of the working crews. The driver of the apparatus then places orange traffic cones around the scene as needed. All crews are required to wear reflective vests or reflective bunker gear for day and night operations. We have a good relationship with local and state police. They will shut down traffic as needed for our safety. This relationship is key. Many police officers’ major concern is returning traffic to a steady flow as soon as possible. This can be dangerous to the fire and EMS crews on the scene. It is the incident commander’s responsibility to work with police to protect the crew and patients on the scene. Ultimately, the best protection crews can have on the scene is vigilance. They cannot get so focused on patient care or extrication that they lose awareness of their surroundings.
David C. Comstock, Jr., chief,Western Reserve Joint Fire District, Poland, Ohio
Response: The fire district has a written policy. The officer in charge (OIC) of the first-arriving apparatus is responsible for providing a size-up in accordance with district operating procedures. The OIC is also responsible for scene safety and must immediately determine whether there are life hazards to firefighters, occupants in the vehicle, or other motorists. Apparatus are to be positioned to protect the scene, patients, and emergency personnel. They should be angled to direct motorists around the scene. Apparatus positioning must also permit adequate parking space for other fire apparatus (if needed). Consideration must also be given to whether a charged hoseline may be needed; therefore, the engine must also be positioned to protect the pump operator (for those apparatus without center-mounted pumps). During nighttime operations, apparatus headlights (or other blinding lights) must be eliminated so as not to blind oncoming traffic. Crews are instructed to exit to the curbside or nontraffic side wherever possible. Unneeded vehicles are to be parked off the street or staged whenever possible. Traffic warning signs and cones are also used to direct traffic. Firefighters operating on a roadway are to wear vests and helmets.
For years, many of the written procedures were not followed. With continual line-of-duty deaths and injuries at MVAs, the use of personal and scene safety equipment has increased dramatically. The biggest obstacle faced by firefighters (in my department and in others for whom I provide legal advice) is that law enforcement officers do not want to impede the traffic flow by any means, including placing fire apparatus near the crash scene. Often, where entrapment is not involved, the prevailing law enforcement attitude is that fire apparatus take up too much space on the roadway and that a police cruiser is more than sufficient to provide blocking protection to emergency personnel operating at the scene. A working relationship between the law enforcement and fire service administrations is needed to resolve these issues so that the objectives of all agencies are met, with the first priority, of course, being the safety of firefighters.
David Peterson, chief,Plainfield (MI) Fire Department
Response: Our department responds to approximately 300 MVAs per year. Some are on limited-access highways; others are on four-lane streets where traffic normally moves at 60 mph. We have a comprehensive set of guidelines for operating on or near roadways that covers apparatus placement, scene marking, lighting, and PPE. Within the next six months, we will be hosting a two-day seminar on safe operations on the roadways, presented by the Responder Safety Group. Our department has a philosophy that safety makes sense, so I was very surprised at the reaction at an officers’ meeting regarding some of the suggestions the instructor made relating to additional equipment. It reminded me of my reaction when told about the incident command system in the ’80s: “How can we be expected to do those things? We’ll spend too much time fooling around with this stuff! It’s going to be too labor intensive.” So, it remains to be seen what effect this training will have on our department, but we will experience it. The roadways are a hazard we can minimize as long as we use self-discipline and common sense to protect others and ourselves.
John Green, first assistant chief,Wanamassa (NJ) Fire Department
Response: My department has a very good working relationship with the police department. The officers give us no problems when we request that the roads be closed. They shut down the road approximately 100 yards before the scene on request. Most of the time, the officers have it closed before we arrive and then confer with the officer in command about how and how much of the lane(s) to open. The protocol is that the engine is positioned between the scene and oncoming traffic to block traffic. The drivers position the engine to protect themselves as well if they have to pump.
We also have a protocol that closes the state highway for working car fires until the fire is extinguished. In most cases, the officers leave at least one lane open until the first-due engine arrives and close it once we are on location. The hoseline team can concentrate on putting out the fire without being concerned about traffic driving through smoke at 70 mph. Keep in mind that the police officers do not want to be injured while at these scenes either.
Dean Hilliard, firefighter,Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania
Response: Our small rural department is involved with MVAs on the interstate highways regularly. When we are on the interstate, we try to keep one lane open between the traffic and us (on a road with two lanes in each direction). We also have an officer who watches oncoming traffic as a safety precaution.
Many times, the state police do not allow us to close a lane, especially if the vehicle is off the roadway. Their contention is that they do not want to bottle up traffic for fear of another accident. This means that many times we are working with traffic only a few feet away.
I understand that in some states the state road department is dispatched to accidents with an arrow board to alert oncoming traffic to an accident ahead. Although this is a good idea, too much time is lost between the dispatch and the time the arrow board is set up. I have also seen advertisements for “Accident Ahead” signs. This may be something for our department to look into.
The biggest problem, though, is that many motorists and truck drivers have no regard or respect for emergency vehicles or personnel on a scene. In many cases, they don’t even slow down near an accident scene.
Lee Hickman, chief (retired),Bells (TN) Fire Department
Response: This is a very important topic and one that will continue to increase in importance. Around 1970, the chief deputy in our County Sheriff’s Department was killed, along with others, while standing alongside a narrow, two-lane road while answering a disturbance call. That made a lasting impression on me; I never forgot the pain I felt at his funeral.
Fast-forward many years to the years I spent as fire chief. Our area has seen the arrival of high-speed, four-lane roads and greatly improved high-speed two-lane roads throughout the district. Responses to MVAs have risen dramatically, as have the dangers to our responders. We use larger apparatus in a staged and blocking position to shield emergency responders from traffic. Our county EMS agency especially appreciates that traffic will slam into a huge piece of fire apparatus instead of its personnel or ambulance. Quite often, a landing zone must be set up for one of our area aeromedical helicopters to make the scene. The incident commander reserves the right to completely block and stop all traffic if the danger to emergency responders is great. My personal position was that motorists stuck in blocked traffic will get over the inconvenience a lot better than we will get over the tragedy of losing another emergency responder in our county.
Lance C. Peeples, instructor,St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy
Response: Early in my career, when I was a shift supervisor for the City of St. Louis EMS, I responded to a car crash in the depressed section of I-70, where one of our members was struck by a car and injured. Miraculously, he suffered only minor injuries. Through the years, I have experienced a number of close calls while operating on roadways; consequently, I have a keen appreciation of the need to exercise extreme caution when operating on highways. Here are a few suggestions that hopefully will allow us to come back safe and sound to the fire station after the next MVA:
1. Always operate as though every driver on the highway is hell-bent on ripping your left leg off with the right front bumper of his car. PAY ATTENTION!
2. At least one large vehicle (preferably an aerial ladder) should be parked to block the accident lane (plus at least one additional lane). This vehicle should be parked far enough back so that the semi-truck loaded with 100 tons of steel plate and driven by an intoxicated operator at 88 miles per hour will stop before reaching the accident scene.
3. All personnel should wear helmets and turnout gear with reflective trim.
4. A lookout should be assigned to monitor traffic conditions.
5. Cones with reflective tape should be placed 500 to 1,000 feet to the rear of the accident scene.
6. NEVER allow traffic to come around both sides of an accident scene.
7. If an ambulance is the only vehicle available to block traffic, position it so that the rear doors are angled out of the direct line of traffic.
8. Engineers must exercise EXTREME caution if the pump panel is located on the driver’s side of the apparatus. Angle the pump panel away from the traffic to allow for safer operation.
9. Get police assistance early.
10. If necessary to ensure safe operations; do not hesitate for even one second to shut down ALL traffic.
Danny Kistner, battalion chief,
Garland (TX) Fire Department
Response: We address the dangers of roadside emergencies in a variety of ways: using apparatus to shield the scene; donning reflective garments to illuminate firefighters; using lighted, electronic flares; adjusting highway procedures; and conducting awareness classes.
Generally speaking, ambulance companies are instructed to position their apparatus just past the scene from their approach so that they are ahead of the involved vehicles and out of the flow of traffic. A truck or engine company is dispatched with the ambulance to all MVAs; this apparatus takes a position just short of the scene from its approach and blocks the involved lane plus one. This gives a full lane of safe working area. Further, should additional working space be needed or an extremely hazardous situation exist, company officers are given the freedom to block more lanes of traffic or to shut down the roadway completely. Company officers are given the discretion to summon additional resources as necessary. We encourage officers to be proactive; they are not criticized for calling additional companies even before they arrive on-scene, based on dispatch information. Resources can always be turned back.
Paramedics and firefighters are encouraged to wear reflective vests whenever operating at roadside incidents, and especially when not in full turnout gear. These garments help motorists to see emergency workers in the daytime as well as at night. Additionally, we place electronic lights atop traffic cones to further separate lanes of traffic from the emergency working area. These devices are highly visible and are not as dangerous as road flares.
Garland, located in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, is plagued with significant traffic woes. Highway incidents are extremely hazardous because of the sheer volume of vehicles and the speed at which some of them travel. Sadly, Garland lost a police officer who was operating on a local highway. As a result, procedures for highway incidents have been modified to include a relaxation in report writing requirements-paramedics can fill out a modified report when arriving at incidents where there are no injuries. The goal is to limit exposure time and, consequently, reduce vulnerability.
Captain Steve Angell created a presentation on roadside safety that covers firefighter roadside fatalities, apparatus positioning, and roadside peculiarities such as blind curves and proper warning device placement. His presentation included digital photographs of dangerous operating locations in Garland. He keeps all firefighters aware of these dangers with varying media and forwards e-mail fatality or close-call notices to all personnel. Angell presented his material at the 2003 Texas Association of Fire Educators Conference.
The department is continuing to explore methods for reducing risk while operating on roadway incidents, including directional warning devices, additional reflective wear, and continuing education. A few local fire departments have begun dispatching an additional apparatus to block traffic on motor vehicle crashes in major thoroughfares. This tactic has paid off in at least one instance involving a local department. Roadside incidents will always be extremely hazardous. It is the responsibility of all firefighters to stay aware and stay alive.
Earl S. Lincoln, firefighter,Hooksett (NH) Fire-Rescue Department
Response: Our policy is to protect the scene with the apparatus. On approach, the company officer surveys the scene and has the driver-operator position the apparatus between oncoming traffic and the incident. The driver also positions the working side of the apparatus away from traffic. For example, our EMS and immobilization equipment is on the officer’s side of the engine. If the incident is a fire, the pump panel will be positioned away from traffic (taking into account other safety concerns such as uphill and upwind). We set up traffic cones some 50 to 100 feet away from the scene; that distance is increased on interstates. Typically, the apparatus will “take out” the lane of the incident and the adjacent lane. Whenever it’s deemed necessary, the incident commander will shut down the roadway. In most cases, local and state police also protect the scene by positioning the cruiser before apparatus or near blind spots to alert motorists of the incident ahead.
When motorists encounter an engine parked across the road, they slow down, which facilitates traffic control for police. However, some motorists are drawn to look toward the flashing lights and activity from their side windows instead of the windshield, where the real danger is. With the apparatus positioned across the lane, the scene is sheltered from traffic that otherwise might venture too close to scene activities. With a crew of only three, the engine company will have its hands full caring for the injured and shouldn’t be concerned about the traffic.
Some may dispute the use of a $400,000 piece of apparatus as a roadblock. However, the goal is scene safety for the most important resources, the firefighters, and placing the apparatus between traffic and the accident scene is the first step in reaching that goal. Despite the high cost of today’s fire apparatus, it is far less costly to repair damaged apparatus than to pay the financial and emotional toll caused by the injury or death of a firefighter.
Paul Boecker, lieutenant//training and safety officer,Sugar Grove (IL) Fire District
Response: With an interstate highway, a state highway, and major local roadways in our district, our safety committee identified the increasing risk for our personnel on these roadways. The safety committee immediately started research into the updated ANSI standard and identified the need for class 3 vests for personnel who do not wear their turnout gear on an accident site. For all other personnel, full turnout gear is mandatory. We are training in vehicle placement that will provide better protection as well as access to needed equipment. The Illinois State Toll Highway Authority has increased its presence on the interstate with additional H.E.L.P. trucks and other support vehicles. The state police is also important in this safety formula. We do not let our safety rest in the hands of others; we need to be well-trained and proactive every time we operate in traffic.
Mitch Brooks, lieutenant,Columbus (OH) Division of Fire
Response: We have an SOP on vehicle placement on freeway accidents that states that the engine company will block the lane on each side of the vehicle. Generally, this is from the direction of travel to the rear of the vehicle if there is no threat of being exposed to vehicle fuel or some other hazard. Also, if an extrication is necessary, the engine will have a staffed, charged hoseline to protect the companies and victim in case of fire.
Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One
Response: We have a policy for traffic work zone safety. Our response area includes multilane divided highways, congested city streets, and many miles of two-lane county roads. The county roads are our biggest concern because of the many miles of roadway and the frequency of motor vehicle accidents. Additionally, the county roads have many curves, high-speed traffic, limited visibility, narrow shoulders, and little (if any) lighting.
In assessing the hazards and the safety requirements for protecting our members, we learned that there are no specific safety requirements for firefighters working near vehicular traffic. In the state of Washington, the Department of Labor and Industries is responsible for workplace safety. Inspectors from that department say that in the absence of specific safety requirements for firefighters, fire departments are expected to meet and follow current industry standards such as the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
We published and trained on an SOG for traffic work zone safety. Each member was given an approved traffic safety vest. Assistant Chief Eric Watson stated that providing each member with a safety vest makes complying with the safety policy convenient. Therefore, the level of compliance and overall safety is very high. We are also working toward installing the reflective collars on all of our traffic cones. Older traffic cones are being replaced with the taller traffic cones, which are more visible to motorists.
Robert Halton, chief,Coppell (TX) Fire Department
Response: We use the word “highway” to reference all roads excluding residential. We remind our folks that being on a residential street can be just as deadly as being on the interstate. We have a written policy concerning the placement of apparatus during motor vehicle incidents. The policy also addresses the safety concerns surrounding these events.
We use an engine company as a barrier to shield the accident scene and responders. We try to position the apparatus so it will not travel into oncoming traffic or strike our firefighters if it is struck. Enough room is placed between the rig and the scene to ensure that traffic will not enter our working area. Our medic units are positioned for patient care and safety and are shielded by an engine or a truck company.
Recently, we received four new medic companies; the backs of these medic units have extensive reflective tape and lighting designed for maximum visibility. The engines are also going to be outfitted with this reflective striping. We are currently awaiting the arrival of several small strobe warning lights, which will be placed in cones that will be used to create a prewarning zone as indicated in the DOT requirements for highway safety.
We share highway response with several neighbors. This is very significant, as the Dallas Fort Worth Airport is our southern border and is one of the nation’s busiest airports. We are fortunate to belong to the Dallas Metro-Crest Consortium, which has several of the finest fire chiefs in America helping us. These chiefs have uniformly made firefighter safety the primary function of their offices. We share response protocols with all our neighbors, making incident coordination seamless.
Our uniform committee has recently purchased new “European safety vests.” Their color is much brighter than that of our old orange vests. If you are thinking about replacing your current equipment, consider researching the newer-technology reflective vests and jackets.
It is important to always be alert and aware of yourself, your crew, and your surroundings when working in or near traffic. Routine can instantly be changed into tragedy. Here in Coppell we are honored to work with a heroic police officer who lost his leg while working on the highway. He continues to serve our community and reminds us that safety is our number one responsibility. ■