By Jack Sullivan
The number of “D” drivers operating vehicles of all sizes on roads and highways throughout the country seems to be multiplying daily. “D” drivers are those people who are drunk, drowsy, distracted, disgruntled, discourteous, disrespectful, drugged (legally and illegally), and just plain dangerous behind the wheel. Just before I wrote this article, another local firefighter was killed in the line of duty while working a traffic incident scene on an interstate. Three other firefighters on scene were injured, one critically, when a tractor-trailer operated by a driver who was charged with reckless driving and defective brakes struck the fire engine. Six U.S. and Canadian firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel were struck and killed by vehicles in 2018:
- January 17, Los Angeles: Deputy Chief Russell Achord, 48, was struck and killed on U.S. 61 at a crash scene.
- April 13, West Virginia: Robert “Bob” Marshall, 57, was struck and killed by a truck on I-81 in Pennsylvania while changing a tire (off duty).
- September 5, South Carolina: Medic Christopher M. Gore, who worked with a private ambulance service, was struck by a car and killed while checking for an address.
- October 11, Virginia: Four Hanover County firefighters were struck; one of them, Lieutenant Brad Clark, was killed at an I-295 crash scene when the engine was struck by a tractor trailer.
- November 7, South Carolina: Assistant Chief Dennis Straight of the Van Wyck Fire Department in Lancaster County was killed while directing traffic at a crash scene.
- November 21, Saskatchewan, Canada: Firefighter Darrell James Morrison was struck and killed by a tractor trailer at a crash scene (ice and snow).
The Emergency Responder Safety Institute tracked 12 firefighter and EMS line-of-duty deaths and three additional off-duty struck-by-vehicle deaths in 2017. The fire service really needs to ratchet up efforts to train for and operate at every roadway incident with “D” drivers in mind. There is a new resource available to help guide your efforts to protect firefighters at roadway incidents.
The most recent edition of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500, Standard for Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Programs, was published in early 2018. The standard provides guidance about safety requirements for fire service personnel involved in all fire department activities. It sets minimum requirements for many areas, including fire department administration, training and education, fire apparatus and equipment, protective apparel, emergency operations, traffic incident management, facility safety, medical and physical requirements, behavioral health and wellness, occupational exposure to stress, and exposure to fireground toxic compounds.
In this edition, the sections that set requirements for firefighter safety when operating and exposed to moving traffic have been expanded. “Traffic Incident Management” (TIM) is now covered in its own chapter, Chapter 9, in recognition of the reality that fire departments are frequently exposed to hazardous vehicle traffic when on the scene of various types of roadway incidents. The new chapter requires fire departments to provide roadway incident safety training and equipment, initiate actions to protect fire service personnel working at an incident scene, and provide training in traffic control to personnel who may be assigned that responsibility.
Overview of Chapter 9
Section 9.2 requires fire departments to establish, implement, and enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) for operations involving exposure to vehicle traffic. For the first time, departments need to provide roadway traffic hazard and safety training for all personnel. This section also directs fire departments to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate with other responding agencies (i.e., mutual-aid fire departments and EMS, law enforcement agencies, transportation departments, tow operators, and public works) when developing traffic incident management SOPs, plans, and training.
A fire department should have traffic incident management SOPs that cover the use of high-visibility apparel, advance warning devices deployment, blocking and safe positioning, setting up a traffic incident management area (TIMA), manual traffic control, backing up apparatus, the use of privately owned vehicles for direct response, and termination of the incident scene safely. The TIMA provides the overall organizing structure for temporary traffic control at a roadway incident scene and should be implemented at every roadway response with modifications to fit each specific situation.
Sections 9.3, 9.4.5, and 9.4.6 set the requirements for the use of advance warning devices. Advance warning consists of attention-getting devices and vehicles that provide motorists with early notice that they are approaching an emergency scene on the roadway. Many types of advance warning devices can achieve this objective, including warning lights on emergency vehicles, portable pink diamond-shaped road signs, electronic variable message signs, and flashing arrow boards. If you need to close any travel lanes, deploy channelizing devices like orange road cones and electronic or traditional chemical flares. The NFPA 1500 standard directs that advance warning devices be placed to provide early warning to the motoring public and that weather and topography features near the scene be considered. Furthermore, the standard requires a minimum of five cones be used to close a lane and that the cones be 28 inches or taller, fluorescent orange, and marked with two retroreflective bands as specified by the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Some states have supplements for the MUTCD that might have more specific guidance. Be sure to check if your state has a MUTCD supplement and, if so, follow that document’s guidelines.
Sections 9.4, 9.4.1, 9.4.2, and 9.4.4 deal with the use of fire apparatus as blocking vehicles. Fire apparatus are positioned in a blocking orientation to provide a physical barrier between oncoming traffic and firefighters operating in an incident work area. The standard requires that first-arriving apparatus be positioned initially as a blocking unit to protect the scene. Local SOPs and incident conditions observed on arrival determine exact placement. There should be enough open space, known as a buffer area, between the apparatus and the work area. Also, it is suggested that some of the warning lights on the apparatus used for blocking be reduced once a TIMA has been established using temporary traffic controls. The standard does not specify who should establish the TIMA; it just calls for a TIMA to be established, meaning that fire departments can rely on local law enforcement; fire police; or Department of Transportation safety service patrol resources, if available, to set up a TIMA.
Ambulances should be positioned “in a safe location to allow patient loading away from traffic.” Typically, that means position the unit downstream of the blocking apparatus and work area and angled so the patient loading doors are as far away from passing traffic as possible. Remember that if EMS is the first emergency vehicle on scene, then the ambulance should be used as a temporary block until more suitable blocking units arrive on scene. The ambulance can be relocated downstream after a more substantial blocking apparatus is in place.
Sections 9.4.3, 9.4.7, and 9.4.8 require safe positioning of vehicles and personnel at the roadway incident scene.
Any response vehicles not used for blocking are to be positioned downstream of the blocking vehicle with reduced warning lights, unless their function at the scene requires them to be positioned upstream of the blocking vehicle. Any vehicles not needed for the operation and any personal vehicles driven to the scene must be positioned in a staging area off the roadway or downstream of the work area.
Firefighters must position themselves and incident victims in a safe area. This means fire department personnel should remove victims to a safe area as quickly as possible and direct civilians who are not injured to a safe area, preferably off the roadway. Available features such as barrier walls, guard rails, and hills can be helpful in providing safe areas.
Firefighters should operate in the shadow of the blocking units whenever possible. If activities require personnel to be outside of that protection, they should be done as quickly as possible while taking precautions to watch for and avoid passing traffic.
Section 9.4.9 requires firefighters to wear high-visibility apparel when working in proximity to traffic. The apparel must comply with the ANSI 107 standard. If fire personnel are exposed to fire, heat, flame, or hazardous materials, wearing NFPA-compliant turnout gear instead of high-visibility apparel is permitted. This requirement is consistent with the high-visibility apparel requirement in the MUTCD. All high-visibility garments should be cleaned regularly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. When a high-visibility garment is damaged, soiled, or deteriorated to the point where it loses its high-visibility characteristics, it should be replaced.
Section 9.4.10 requires that personnel assigned to direct traffic should be trained for that duty in accordance with NFPA 1091, Standard for Traffic Control Incident Management Professional Qualifications. NFPA 1091 is the professional qualifications standard that sets the minimum job performance requirements (JPRs) for people who perform traffic incident management and traffic control duties. It provides a blueprint for the training officers who prepare personnel who will be assigned traffic control duties. NFPA 1500 section 9.4.10 specifically requires that personnel assigned traffic control duties are trained in accordance with NFPA 1091.
NFPA 1091 JPRs cover nine areas:
- Incident size-up and establishing command.
- Blocking/safe positioning.
- Establishing a TIMA.
- Establishing advance warning.
- Operating as a member of a team at a TIMA.
- Managing noninvolved persons at the scene.
- Monitoring and adjusting the temporary traffic control measures at the scene as needed.
- Adapting the TIMA in response to incident-specific hazards (i.e., weather, topography, traffic volume and speed, and so on).
- Demobilization of the TIMA in a safe manner.
Complying with the provisions in this chapter will help protect your personnel, other responders, victims, bystanders, and motorists from being struck by vehicles. Compliance also provides the structure to effectively handle traffic at roadway incidents through implementation of generally recognized practices in a coordinated effort with other agencies on scene. Implementing traffic control at every incident helps keep everyone present safer and reduces the chance of a secondary incident.
Jack Sullivan is the director of training for the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and a retired firefighter with 25 years of service. He is a master instructor for the FHWA National Traffic Incident Management training program and is nationally recognized for his work on roadway incident safety for the fire and EMS community. He serves on several committees focused on the safety of firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement officers, safety service patrol operators, transportation personnel, and tow operators operating at road and highway incidents. In January 2018, he was presented with the Dave Dodson Lifetime Achievement Award by the Fire Department Safety Officers Association for 20 years of work dedicated to highway incident safety.