By Jamie Thompson
FireRescue1 Senior Editor
A spate of incidents involving drivers striking fire apparatus and other public safety vehicles in blocking positions has led to a call to action for best safety practices to be shared.
Since the start of the year, the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) has collected at least 20 news reports where apparatus and/or fire and EMS personnel have been struck while operating on roadways.
There have been two related firefighter line-of-duty deaths so far — one fire-police officer was struck and killed in Pennsylvania and a fire chief was struck by one of his own fire trucks backing into a fire station in Kansas. There have been even more "struck-by" incidents involving law enforcement officers.
In response to the trend, ERSI is escalating a project it had already begun to develop new training materials to help address the number of such incidents. ERSI is appealing to fire, EMS, and law enforcement, as well as DOT and towing and recovery agencies, to share any existing procedures and best practices they currently use, which can be incorporated into the new training programs.
Specifically it is looking for strategies for deploying advance warning devices including the use of a blocking vehicle upstream from an incident scene. In addition, the group wants to hear from agencies that respond on two-lane roadways as well as high speed, limited access highways.
It also wants to be able to evaluate single-piece responses such as one engine, one ambulance or one police cruiser as well as tactics that can be used during short staffing situations.
Director of Training Jack Sullivan said one of the current concerns is that some of the recent incidents have occurred despite responders having seemingly taken all the appropriate measures to reduce their risks.
The latest incident, on Sunday, saw Orange County, Florida, Firefighter Chad Lowery sustain serious injuries when a car plowed through an existing accident scene and struck him.
As outlined in the video clip within this article, crews were working with their fire truck parked in a "fend-off" position, but a motorist decided to drive around that blockade.
"The recent incident in Orange County is a good example where firefighters were doing all the right things but a vehicle still went around all the protective features and struck a firefighter and several other people at the incident scene," Sullivan said.
While in this case the crash occurred in spite of adequate measures having been put in place, Sullivan said all departments need to be aware of the basic things they can do to reduce the risks of collisions while operating on roadsides.
The organization suggests the following minimum strategies to protect personnel:
1. Develop standard operating guidelines for roadway incidents
2. Training for all personnel on SOPs and safety strategy and tactics at least annually if not more frequently
3. Proper positioning of fire apparatus to protect the incident work area (angled to form a block in the appropriate lanes)
4. Advanced warnings for motorists using whatever tools are available (cones, flares, signs, variable message boards, police officers, DOT trucks, etc.)
5. High-visibility (florescent and reflective) personal protective equipment
6. Active participation by fire and EMS agencies in regional traffic incident management committees
7. Periodic joint multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional training on roadway incident management
Training aids and information are available at ERSI's Web site, Respondersafety.com
"At best, even if all these strategies are properly implemented, it only improves our chances of returning safely after responding to a roadway incident," Sullivan said.
"None of these strategies will guarantee our safety as we have seen with this year's incidents. We need to employ as many of these strategies as possible every time we respond to a roadway incident."
You can submit your department's procedures for the deployment of advanced warning at incident scenes to firstname.lastname@example.org.