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The City of Atlanta is a thriving, bustling, urbanized community. Being the home of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as well as boasting a comprehensive interstate highway and rail network has often earned us the nickname â€œCrossroads of the South.â€
A new rescue challenge, however, has emerged in Atlanta, which typically plays out on or near our limited-access/high-speed interstate highways. About two times per month, the Atlanta Fire-Rescue Communications Center dispatches a technical rescue assignment for a suicide attempt in progress: â€œJumper on the interstate.â€ This article discusses the preparation; planning, training and resources needed to respond to this emerging and escalating situation.
Eye-Opening Case Study
After attending the Saturday morning activities of a major EMS conference held in Atlanta, I headed south to catch a flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson. I had timed my commute to allow for a meeting with an old fire service friend who was passing through our airport. It was several weeks before the Christmas holiday and the reunion was a most welcomed one.
As I merged onto Interstate 75/85 Southbound in downtown Atlanta, I observed a perplexing situation that would prove to be a little difficult to comprehend. Wearing a dark-blue uniform, a young police officer was shutting down the interstate by flagging down the 60-mph traffic. At first, I thought that I was driving into a â€œnewâ€ (just occurred) accident scene. As the policewoman got control over a lane of traffic, a marked police cruiser would move into place, establishing a traffic lane barricade. As each lane of vehicles was stopped, another police cruiser would position to block the interstate. In just a few minutes, all six lanes of the downtown section of the interstate highway were closed off and controlled by Atlanta Police.
Unable to locate any crashed vehicles, I changed my size-up to consider the possibility that a VIPâ€™s motorcade was enroute to downtown Atlanta. Since the police cruisers were deployed down the entrance ramp, traveling in the wrong (opposing traffic) direction, I incorrectly surmised that some VIP was headed into the city (the time frame was just before the national elections and all of the candidates were visiting Atlanta).
After all the lanes had been shut down, I ended up being the first car in line next to one of the police vehicles. In hopes that the traffic would be quickly turned loose and not wanting to complain about the delay or abandon my vehicle, I simply waited. After about 20 to 30 minutes of delay, I was getting a little nervous about my time in getting to the airport to enjoy my pre-flight visit. I decided to get out of my car, identify myself and determine the projected length of time that the freeway would be closed.
When I asked the police officer how long he expected the highway to be shut down he said he was not sure of the timeline of the closure and pointed to the top of the 40-foot-high retaining wall. Perched atop of that wall was a gentleman that was threatening to jump to his death on to the highway below. Realizing the magnitude of this situation, I asked the officer if the fire department had been called. His answer sounded something like â€œthat would be a good idea.â€
And so began yet another long-duration and resource-intensive rescue standby operation for the Atlanta Fire-Rescue Department. As the â€œinterstate jumpersâ€ have become a regular occurrence, we at Atlanta Fire-Rescue have had to develop plans, training and resources to effectively respond to and resolve this type of incident.
Due to the steady diet of â€œjumperâ€ calls, we have successfully built a closer relationship with the Atlanta Police Department. As a result of this relationship, duties and responsibilities have been clearly defined for each first-response agency. The Atlanta Police Department is the â€œlead agencyâ€ and therefore in charge of the overall scene. The area of concentration for Atlanta Fire-Rescue is rescue and interventions. In addition, we assist with traffic management when necessary and possible.