4 roadside tactics for better firefighter safety

These safety measures can shift the odds away from firefighter injury when motorists do the unexpected

Depending on where they live, many are eagerly welcoming the seasonal change from winter's cold temperatures to spring's warmth. This anticipation bring with it carelessness in regards to driving according to the conditions.

I was reminded of this anticipation recently when a few surprise freezing-rain and heavy-snow storms hit us within a two-day period. Prior to these storms we had nice, spring-like weather that allowed driving habits to occur in accordance to the weather.

But once the winter weather returned with a vengeance, those driving habits did not change.

For the fire service, this relaxed driving behavior creates a hazardous work environment when we are called out for any type of roadway incident. We need to protect our work space so firefighters and medics can work safely with reduced risk of being struck by another vehicle.

The video below demonstrates how when there is no traffic protection in place, drivers will strike and injury firefighters or other personnel working on the roadway at the incident. Flashing lights and the obvious presence of emergency vehicles did not provide enough protection for these firefighters.

So what can firefighters do to increase the safety factor and decrease the chance of being struck by oncoming traffic?

Four tactics
First, use the trucks as blockers. Placing one or two fire trucks in a certain position will help create a protected work zone.

The trucks should be placed on a 45-degree angle so as to provide a chevron-like pattern for traffic to follow. If a vehicle does enter the safe zone and strike a truck, the 45-degree angle will help deflect that vehicle away from emergency responders.

Second, make sure that the scene is well illuminated with not just flashing red lights, but also with traffic directional signals. Using traffic directional signals will warn motorists ahead of time which way to merge away from or around the incident scene.

Use flares or electronic LED flares on the roadway to also warn drives to slow down and avoid the incident.

Third, firefighters can protect themselves by making sure they are also well illuminated. This means wearing a traffic vest over top of firefighter gear. This lets drivers know that there are personnel on the roadway working.

Last, use the police to help slow drivers and control traffic patterns. Visible police are usually speed deterrent.

Think of all the times a police car is parked by the side of the road. Motorists usually react by slowing down — the same effect can be used for a roadside incident. Police squads can also be used if there are not enough fire trucks available for traffic control and protection.

Motorists' behavior near a roadside emergency scene is one of the many unpredictable hazards to firefighters and medics. Taking a few safety precautions can shift the odds away from firefighter injury when a motorist doesn't do what is expected. 

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