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Firefighter safety on winter roads

Because motorists forget how to drive in winter weather, firefighters need to take extra safety measures on MVAs


Once the bad weather starts, firefighters and EMTs need to be extra vigilant in protecting themselves on the roadways with aggressive traffic protection measures.


As we enter another winter, we also head into the season of vehicle accidents and unpredictable weather. As much as the weather is unpredictable, so too are the drivers who use the roadways.

Even in northern areas, it will take a while for drivers to acclimate to winter driving conditions once the bad weather starts.

Once the bad weather starts, firefighters and EMTs need to be extra vigilant in protecting themselves on the roadways with aggressive traffic protection measures. We have witnessed too many incidents involving vehicles out of control crashing into fire trucks on the roadways with some incidents of firefighters being struck.

Drivers are responsible for operating their vehicles in a manner that is consistent with the highway traffic and with the safety in mind. They are responsible for what they do or hit with their vehicles.

Winter Safety practices

Here’s a review of safe work practices that firefighters should institute for roadway operations.

First, fire trucks need to be positioned in a manner that will create a safe work area for the firefighters. This will require using a truck to block traffic at a safe distance away from the incident scene. The blocker truck should be positioned on a 45-degree angle so as to block a lane or two of traffic.

By doing this, traffic is forced to move over and away from the incident scene. The best solution is to close the roadway down completely. This can be done sometimes, but pressure to keep traffic flowing can limit that option.

The other fire truck can be positioned closer to the incident. Park it on a 45-degree angle as well to provide a double amount of protection. This will require sending two trucks to every roadway incident — something that is not usually done.

Next, every light on the truck should be turned on for visibility sakes. This will include emergency response lights as well as scene lights. Many fire trucks also have directional light bars on the rear to indicate to drivers which direction they should merge. If the fire truck has this option, use it.

Having all the lights on will illuminate the scene and provide a warning to all oncoming traffic to slow down and avoid what is approaching them.

Every firefighter working on the roadway should wear reflective traffic vests. This will increase the visible presence of each person working on the roadway and will warn motorists.

Having a safety lookout is also a good way to warn the firefighters of what dangers may be coming their way. Working with the local police will also have positive impact on the incident situation to ensure the safety of all involved.

This article, originally published on Jan. 4, 2016, has been updated

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.

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