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Fire News in Focus
by Adam K. Thiel

Cops vs. firefighters: The need for mutual respect

As with so many things in our business, it's all about relationships when managing roadway incident scenes

By Adam K. Thiel

Editor's note: The citation against a Tenn. firefighter for blocking lanes of traffic at a crash scene has been dropped

There have been several occasions during my career, at every rank except fire chief (yet), when I was sure that I was going to be arrested for blocking the roadway with fire apparatus.

I think the quotes from the principals involved in this incident do a great job presenting the situation that all of us face at one time or another.

First, there are very good reasons why law enforcement officers want to open roadways as fast as possible. We've all seen the negative impact of traffic back-ups in terms of secondary crashes and congestion on adjacent streets.

Second, we have an equally important reason to block travel lanes if required to ensure responder, patient and overall scene safety.

We know that too many firefighter/EMS (and law enforcement) injuries and fatalities occur each year along our nation's highways and byways. Taking the time and effort to properly protect the incident scene can truly be a lifesaver.

The idea that we can either: 1) keep roads completely open; or 2) assure scene safety is a sucker's choice. We need to figure out, in cooperation with our law enforcement brothers and sisters, how to do both whenever possible.

Personally, I once shut down both sides of an interstate highway for a double medevac and had a state Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer "kindly" (sort of) offer to move our department's ladder truck if I didn't have it done immediately.

I quickly, and respectfully, explained the situation and told him we'd move it as soon as the helo was airborne. We did...and hence, no cuffs.

The key, of course, seems to be mutual RESPECT. That's not always easy in the chaos of an emergency incident, with traffic whizzing by and the "golden hour" clock ticking.

As with so many things in our business, it's all about relationships. I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who patrol our roadways; and I know they (generally) have a great deal of respect for us.

But like anything we do, we can't assume things are going to go well unless we plan and prepare in advance.

For some great resources on roadway safety that you can discuss and share with your law enforcement partners, be sure to check out:

Stay safe!

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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