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Scene Control at Motor Vehicle Accidents

Incident command is often left in a position at motor vehicle accidents to leave part of a road open. In theory this makes sense — clear the scene of a motor vehicle accident without disrupting normal flow of traffic. All seems fine on paper, but this mentality is destroying emergency vehicles, injuring rescue personal, and in some cases killing them.

Check out the following clip for an example of how vulnerable fire trucks can be at an accident scene:

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Often these accidents, such as the clip above, are a result of “rubber necking” or the natural tendency of civilians passing by an incident to be “hypnotized” by the scene. Let’s face it, people always want to see the accident. It means focus is taken from the road ahead of the driver and put onto the euphoria of the emergency scene. This often results in civilians literally driving into the back of emergency vehicles.

Modern technology has compounded these dangers; there is a direct correlation in the increase of cell phone use and accidents. Add texting to that and we really have a real serious problem. In addition, there have been numerous cases in recent months involving drunk drivers. Despite efforts to control the scene, drivers under the influence have driven right through into apparatus and emergency personnel.

Take a look at the following video, which features a prime example of the dangers of operating at an accident scene while multiple lanes of traffic remain open:

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Compounding the issues of regular distractions of the daily commute is weather. This video highlights a standard staging of a minor vehicle accident. The police cruiser is staged about 100 feet from the emergency scene.

As you saw in that clip, the firefighters wisely staged their apparatus at an angle to better shield them from potential accidents. This is a wise and recommended move. If you cannot get entire roads closed, stage your equipment in order to protect your manpower. It is reported in this accident, which involves the Mesquite, Texas, Fire Department, that the operator of the tractor trailer went over the crest in the highway and noticed the accident too late, hit the brakes, and sent himself into an uncontrollable jack knife slide into the first responders. Despite being rattled, there were no major emergency personnel injuries.

The staging of the fire engine seemed critical in the safety of the firefighters. As you can see from the video, if the fire engine was parallel to the center divider it would have shot the apparatus into the rescuers and potential occupants of the original accident.

You should stress to your local jurisdictions the dangers of not closing down roads completely. There are many photos and videos available of exact situations to demonstrate the dangers. If you cannot close down a road completely, think about staging your equipment in a more conservative fashion. Increase your distance from the scene of the accident as long as your hookups will permit, angle apparatus as shown in the above video to protect the scene, and it is also wise to set up a warning system well in advance of the accident. This could be police personnel, cones, flares, and in some cases automatic sign boards.

Jason T. Poremba is the owner and creator of His ‘Close Calls on Camera’ section on FR1 won Best Regularly Featured Web column/Trade category in the 2009 Maggie Awards, which honors the region’s best publications and Web sites. Jason is a 14-year member and captain in an engine company of a volunteer fire department in New York. His specialty training includes rapid intervention, firefighter survival and engine company operations. He has developed a way to train firefighters via the Web in the dangers of firefighter close calls, and dangerous training and firefighting procedures.