The World of Highway Safety

Most of you know me as a swashbuckling, devil-may-care firefighting kind of a guy. But there is more to my chubby persona that meets the eye. I am a man of many moments. In one of my other lives, I serve as the Editor for a highway safety web site known as We are dedicated to helping you learn to operate in a safer manner.

Our site serves a rather noble purpose. We want to prevent, or at least reduce, the many needless deaths that emergency responders suffer while operating on the highways of North America. Every year police officers, fire service personnel, and emergency medical responders are struck and killed while operating at emergency scenes.

Right about now, many of you sitting at your computers may stop reading. You will think to yourself. This is not interesting. This is not important to my fire department. I have no major highways in my response district. This issue is strictly for paid people. This issue is only for volunteers. Please do not start thinking in this way. You would be dead wrong if you did.

I can cite stories from around the nation where career people like the late Lieutenant Scott Gillen from the Chicago Fire Department was struck and killed in the line of duty. Then I could share with you stories like the one that occurred in my community a number of years ago where a long-time fire police officer was struck and killed while directing traffic at a brush fire on a back road, or any of a long list of similar tragedies.

Let me now share a very personal story with you. Let me tell you about how I was almost struck by a passing motorist right here in our own fire district in Howell Township, New Jersey. During a recent serious windstorm I was the driver on a unit that responded to a report of wires down. Upon arrival we determined that a falling tree had knocked down a primary electric line. The line was lying out in the roadway. We proceeded to set up a traffic control zone.

I parked my pumper at an angle across the road and requested that a mutual aid pumper take up a traffic control point at an intersection opposite our unit. They were able to shunt traffic down a side road and around the area. As the incident commander I continued to evaluate and size up our situation.

Not being happy with the number of cars that were being turned around near our Adelphia pumper, I requested our fire police unit to respond and block traffic further up the road. Upon their arrival, they were stationed at a point where traffic could be easily rerouted through a large commercial parking lot, and moved away from the incident.

At some point shortly thereafter, I was discussing traffic control with one of our younger members, Brian Prochnow. I stressed to him the importance of my role as the incident commander in the continuing assessment of the situation. I believe that I had just told him that my one of my most critical tasks was to see that he and the rest of the gang remained safe. I then proceeded to step around the pumper, which had been parked on an angle, to reassess the scene.

It was at that point that a pickup truck came around the side of the pumper, startling me and causing me to jump out of the way. It seems that the vehicle had exited an occupancy located between the two traffic control points. We had set up highway cones to direct people toward the other direction, and thence out of the area. This person had decided that we were in his way. He simply drove around our cones and went on his way. That is just how quickly these things happen. I almost became a statistic.

Let me to stress an important point at this juncture. This was not an interstate highway, a high-speed state highway, or even a busy county road. This was a normally quiet, local road that is under the control of our township road department. It is the sort of roadway where many of you operate every day of the year.

I would guess that the only reasons I was not struck are that I was close to the fire vehicle, and that the angle of the pumper in the roadway forced the driver to belly out around us and go up onto the grassy area at the side of the road. I want you to know that this happened in spite of the fact that our traffic safety cones were in place, my emergency lights were operating, and I was wearing my turnout coat. Maybe the most important factor was that God was on my side too.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is just one more story in a long list of close calls that I believe are happening every day throughout the United States and Canada. How many of these go unreported? We can only guess. These things happen so suddenly that we are left little time to react.

This is an issue that received far too little coverage in the regular media. Usually the only things that make the news are the spectacular, or the tragic events. You know what I am talking about.