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Last month's Close Calls column featured very personal accounts by Fort Worth, TX, MedStar Medic Selena Schmidt, describing how she and fellow responders were struck and nearly killed while operating on a highway, and Fort Worth Firefighter Glenn R. Scarbrough Jr., who witnessed the incident. This month, we feature Chief Goldfeder's observations and communications with the writers and others regarding this incident:
Responding to a motor vehicle accident is generally considered "routine" by many of us, but as we've learned, no response on a highway or anywhere else should ever be treated as "routine", and for good reason. Of course, that is much easier said than done. That's why we have this column, to "drive home" the close calls (or worse) that have happened to other members so we can learn from what has happened to "them." So what can be done to protect our members on the roadways? In my discussion with Selena Schmidt while working on this column, one idea we talked about is that units simply should NOT start working on patients until the work area is safe. As you see by her comments, of course, that is not always an option, but it sure is worth thinking about.
The fact of the matter is that we must act as if every motorist is planning to hit us, and then operate knowing that. ResponderSafety.com is a great website dedicated to protecting members responding to, operating at and returning from incidents. On that site are several excellent sample standard operating procedures and guidelines. It suggests certain specific tactical procedures (shown below in bold) that should be taken to protect all crewmembers and emergency service personnel at the incident scene including:
2. Avoid turning your back to approaching traffic. That may mean that if only you and your partner arrive on a scene, one of you does the initial size-up and the other monitors traffic conditions until the arrival of additional resources. Will that delay patient care? Sure, but if you get hurt attempting to deliver that care, there is now a need for a lot more care.
3. Establish an initial "block" with the first-arriving emergency vehicle or fire apparatus. This should be done based on local laws and policies and with full understanding by your local law enforcement agency. In other words, your leadership should be meeting with law enforcement leaders now, as opposed to just doing it when you arrive on a scene. Pre-planning highway incidents is as critical as building pre-plans and can be done by type of roadway and specific roadway features.
4. Always wear Class III high-visibility reflective vests during daylight operations.
5. Always wear a structural firefighting helmet. While EMS personnel may not have firefighting helmets, approved safety helmets should be issued to all EMS responders for this protection, as well as when working in hazardous areas.
6. Wear full protective clothing plus the highway safety vest at all vehicle-related emergencies between the hours of dusk and dawn or whenever lighting levels are reduced due to inclement weather conditions. Sure, it's hot out and it may make it difficult for you to work on your patient, but you must take care of you before you can take care of them!
7. Turn off all sources of vision impairment to approaching motorists at nighttime incidents, including vehicle headlights and spotlights. If vehicle headlights and spotlights are impairing oncoming vehicles, move the lighting or stop the traffic. Emergency warning lights are critical to do their job, and that's the point. If they are causing a problem, they are not doing their job and changes are needed. Take your apparatus out to a non-traffic area at night and determine for yourselves what your "scene" may look like to approaching motorists.
8. Use fire apparatus and police vehicles to initially redirect the flow of moving traffic. This requires training and full coordination and cooperation by all affected agencies. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) with applicable training and inter-agency drills will help make this work.