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Roadway incidents are a hot zone for EMS

Roadway LODDs are tragic reminders of the importance of time, distance and shielding to reduce hot zone risk


First responders salute as Lubbock Police Officer Nicholas Reyna and Lieutenant/Paramedic Eric Hill are transported to the County Medical Examiner’s Office in Fort Worth, Texas. Reyna and Hill died after a vehicle collided with them while responding to an accident in January of 2020..

Photo/courtesy Brad Tollefson/A-J Media

This article was originally posted Jan. 6, 2020. It has been updated.

Roadside deaths are unspeakable tragedies for the family, friends and colleagues of each person killed, and a reminder of the dangers of working on the roadway, on- or off-duty, inside a vehicle or out in the elements.

Firefighter/Paramedic Steve Whitehead has repeatedly said, “The roadway is the most dangerous environment” for EMS providers, as well as firefighters, police officers, tow truck operators, construction workers and stranded motorists.

When you respond to a vehicle collision, you are at an extremely hazardous incident and working in a hot zone requiring a WMD approach. Reduce your risk with time, distance and shielding:

1. Minimize on-scene time

As you approach the scene, pre-plan with your partner or company, based on dispatch information; scene reports from other responders; and what you are able to see, hear or smell to spend as little time as possible on or adjacent to the road. Make every action urgent and purposeful until you are able to move out of the hot zone by exiting the freeway or idling in a parking lot.

2. Maximize distance from moving vehicles

Learn and adapt the principles of traffic incident management to your jurisdiction. One of the most important actions is upstream notification of drivers that they are approaching a vehicle collision. Signs and vehicles need to urgently and repeatedly warn drivers to move over and slow down.

Once at the incident, perform all duties as far from the center line as conditions allow. Drunk or distracted drivers, traveling too fast for conditions, often over-correct their steering and braking, losing control of their vehicle. Once the driver loses control, any person or vehicle in their path is at risk of being struck.

3. Maximize shielding from all vehicles

If a blocking apparatus is available, park downstream of that apparatus. Two or three blocking apparatus might be even better. Use what’s available to you.

Don’t forget or overlook the risk from vehicles in the opposite direction of travel lane. Rubbernecking changes the flow and speed of traffic, causing drivers to make poor decisions, act abruptly or slow their speed too late.

It’s better to be in your vehicle – ambulance, fire apparatus or police cruiser – with the motor running and seatbelts on, than standing on or near the road. If your vehicle is part of a multi-vehicle pileup, keep your engine running so if you are struck, airbags might still deploy. Direct Good Samaritans back to their vehicles as soon as possible.

Wear or use all department-issued PPE, such as highly visible outerwear and helmets, but expect it to provide you limited actual protection. Being visible from 500 feet matters little to a hydroplaning vehicle moving at 70 miles per hour.

The roadway is always a hot zone, even when traffic is light and conditions are ideal. Physics, weather, driver sobriety, driver distraction and common sense are working against you. Be purposeful and urgent in your actions to reduce the risk with time, distance and shielding.

Learn more about operating safely on the roadways

Learn more about time, distance and shielding on the road with these resources from EMS1 and FireRescue1:

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on Twitter or LinkedIn and submit an article idea or ask questions by emailing him at