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Safe Parking - Part 4: Personal Survival Skills

Chapter 6 of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides guidelines for the improved safety of personnel when working in or near moving traffic.

SUBJECT: Safety Procedures When Working In or Near Moving Traffic

TOPIC: Apparatus Exit and Signaling Procedures

OBJECTIVE: Emergency responders working in or near moving traffic must train in safe procedures for exiting response vehicles and communicating with standardized hand signals to moving traffic

TASK: Upon study of this material, a responder shall be able to demonstrate proper exiting protocols for all riding positions of all department vehicles that may respond to a highway incident and shall effectively demonstrate hand signals for STOP, SLOW, MERGE and PROCEED.

Chapter 6 of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides guidelines for the improved safety of personnel when working in or near moving traffic. Training is considered a key element. The MUTCD states that all workers should be trained on how to work next to motor vehicle traffic in a way that minimizes their vulnerability. In addition, workers should wear bright, highly visible clothing (Section 6E.02).

This month's edition of the University of Extrication's series on safe parking focuses on street survival skills for all responders. Assuming that everyone has already donned highway- safety personal protective equipment (PPE) and helmets, we'll begin with vehicle exit procedures.

All major apparatus should be in a blocking position as crew members exit the vehicle. Depending upon whether it is in a "block-to-the-right" or a "block-to-the-left" position, one side of the vehicle or the other will be facing approaching upstream traffic with the opposite side facing downstream into a protected area.

EXIT PROTOCOLS: OFFICER AND DRIVER/OPERATOR

  • Look at approaching traffic in a side mirror
  • Turn your head to look rearward over your shoulder at approaching traffic
  • Open the door partially
  • Check for approaching traffic
  • Exit the vehicle to street if safe to do so
  • Close the door
  • Maintain a low profile alongside the apparatus, with your eyes on approaching traffic
  • With your back to the apparatus, move to the front and around to the protected side of apparatus

EXIT PROTOCOLS: CREW

  • Look out window at approaching traffic
  • Open the door partially
  • Check for approaching traffic
  • Exit the vehicle if safe to do so
  • Close the door
  • Assure that you are in a protected-activity area

All crew members in enclosed cabs must exit out the door on the downstream side of the apparatus; no exceptions. Older apparatus jumpseat designs may prohibit a firefighter from exiting to the protected side. In this case, that firefighter follows the Officer Exit protocols.

EXIT PROTOCOLS: AMBULANCE CREW

The ambulance driver and front-seat crew member don't have much choice; they have to exit out their respective doors. Exit protocols for these responders are:

  • Look at approaching traffic in a side mirror
  • Turn your head to look rearward over your shoulder at approaching traffic
  • Open the door partially
  • Check for approaching traffic
  • Exit the vehicle to street if safe to do so
  • Close the door
  • Maintain a low profile alongside the ambulance, with your eyes on the approaching traffic
  • With your back to the ambulance, move to the front and around to the protected side

On occasions when an additional crew member is riding in the third seat, this responder must use extreme caution in exiting the patient compartment. Departments may wish to forbid exiting out the patient compartment side door. Especially when the ambulance is in a block to the right position, this exit is exposed to upstream traffic.

EXIT PROTOCOLS: PATIENT COMPARTMENT

  • Look at approaching traffic through rear-door windows
  • Open one rear door partially
  • Check for approaching traffic
  • Exit the vehicle if safe to do so
  • Close the door
  • Maintain a low profile along the rear of the ambulance, with your eyes on the approaching traffic
  • Move to the protected side of the ambulance, away from moving traffic

EXIT PROTOCOLS: LAW ENFORCEMENT, FIRE OFFICER AND EMS SUPERVISOR

A police officer, fire officer or EMS supervisor arriving on scene typically is alone in a four-door vehicle. Exit protocols are as follows:

  • Park the vehicle in a block-to-the-right if possible
  • Check all mirrors; look at approaching traffic in both the side mirrors and the interior rearview mirror
  • Turn your head to look rearward over your shoulder at approaching traffic
  • Open the driver's door partially
  • Check for approaching traffic
  • Exit the vehicle if safe to do so
  • Close the door
  • Maintain a low profile alongside the vehicle, with your eyes on the approaching traffic direction
  • Move to a safe location on the protected side of the vehicle

MOVING AROUND CORNERS

While working at the scene, providing patient care, extinguishing a fire or completing some vehicle rescue task, there will be occasion to return to the apparatus to obtain equipment. The protocol for getting equipment from an exterior compartment of an apparatus or ambulance is:

  • Move along the downstream, protected side of the apparatus or ambulance
  • Stop at the corner of vehicle; pretend there is a stop sign at every corner of the vehicle
  • Look rearward at approaching traffic
  • Move to the compartment
  • Open the compartment door
  • Obtain the equipment while constantly checking approaching traffic
  • Close the door
  • Maintain a low profile alongside the vehicle, with your eyes on approaching traffic
  • Move to a safe location on the protected side of vehicle

DEPLOYING CONES, FLARES, WARNING SIGNS, ETC.

The newest version of NFPA's Standard 1500 requires that a retro-reflective highway safety sign be deployed as advance warning anytime a fire department vehicle is used in a blocking mode at a highway incident (NFPA 1500, section 8.4.27). This fluorescent pink sign must contain the wording "EMERGENCY SCENE AHEAD". When appropriate, emergency responders may also deploy traffic cones, flares, or other devices to warn approaching traffic and direct them into a merging taper around the incident scene. The protocol for setting these devices is:

  • Obtain a partner, if available, to act upstream as your flagger, looking out for you and monitoring the approaching traffic
  • Gather advance-warning signs, cones and flares
  • Constantly scan for the movement and location of approaching traffic
  • Deploy a fluorescent pink, retro-reflective sign upstream a distance equal to 12 times the posted speed limit in feet along the edge of the nearest travel lane to serve as the advance warning
  • Deploy the first cone or flare device at the corner of the blocking vehicle where the least amount of buffer space exists between it and moving traffic
  • Deploy additional cones or flares at appropriate intervals while moving upstream, tapering at an angle from the corner of the emergency vehicle
  • Deploy cones downstream from the blocking vehicle, parallel to the lanes of moving traffic, to identify a buffer area alongside the work area

FLAGGER MINIMUM QUALIFICATIONS

A flagger is the term officially given by federal and state transportation departments to a person who provides temporary traffic control. Because they are responsible for the safety of not only the emergency responders but the motoring public as well, flaggers must be trained and certified in these responsibilities.

Section 6E.01 of the MUTCD guidelines specifically lists seven minimum qualifications for anyone who provides temporary traffic control. Fire department officials would be wise to review this list and consider if in fact all active members and fire police personnel who respond to highway incidents and direct traffic meet these minimums. If not, that member should be used in a different capacity by the department and not permitted to "flag".

Flaggers should have the following minimum qualifications:

A. Sense of responsibility for the safety of public and fellow workers B. Adequate training in safe temporary traffic-control practices C. Average intelligence D. Good physical condition, including sight, mobility and hearing E. Mental alertness and the ability to react in an emergency F. Courteous, but firm manner G. Neat appearance

HAND SIGNALS

During actual road repair projects, transportation department flaggers use a device known as a "paddle", which is a red "STOP" sign on one side and an orange "SLOW" sign on the other, mounted on a pole. Under emergency circumstances, responders can and have used this same paddle signal device. More often than not, we use what we have with us - our hands and arms. At night, flashlights with illuminated cone attachments provide increased visibility.

To direct approaching vehicle, the emergency flagger should face traffic. The individual's free arm should always be extended horizontally away from the body. This allows the arm and hand to be seen most effectively by motorists. To stop traffic, the hand is held steady with the arm extended out to the side, palm toward the traffic. If signaling traffic to slow down, but proceed, move the arm up and down with the palm down. To signal a lane change or merge, the free hand should motion in the desired direction with an exaggerated arc of movement in the direction required while again being held out, away from the body.

FLAGGER UPSTREAM POSITION

When signaling to approaching traffic at an incident scene, the flagger should stand on or near the shoulder of the roadway while remaining within the clear view of upstream motorists. Always have that guaranteed escape route; your survival area when things go wrong. If you are standing in front of an emergency vehicle and its headlights are still on, the approaching motorists may be totally blinded to you and your location. If you are standing in the shade on a bright sunny day, you may not be as visible to traffic as if you were in the sun.

The flagger's position should be upstream enough to warn fellow responders if an out-of-control vehicle is crashing through the traffic-control devices. The DOT recommends that the flagger be at least 170 feet upstream of the activity area when the posted speed limit is 40 mph and 485 feet away for a 65-mph highway.

OUR HIGHWAY “MAYDAY” SIGNAL

We need the ultimate audible warning signal when working in or near moving traffic, just like we have at structural incidents. Besides a good air horn, a compressed-gas air horn similar to that used at sporting events can be heard even above the noise of highway traffic and would serve as a good Mayday signal for all to take cover.

A good-quality whistle can also alert responders when something is going wrong. Make sure the necklace for the whistle has a Velcro break-away attachment allowing it to tear off the neck of a person if it gets snagged on an object or a moving vehicle.

Relying on a Mayday-type radio call, as is done at structural incidents, may not be sufficient to be heard by all those present at the highway scene. The radio channel may be busy at that critical moment. In addition, not everyone on scene may have a radio and not everyone may be on the same channel.

INTRODUCTION TO PART 5: HIGHWAY SAFETY EQUIPMENT

Did you know that traffic cones have different requirements if they are used at night or on highways posted at 45 mph or higher? In Part 5 of this series, we'll look at the special highway safety equipment needs such as this.

Our information will also address the new, nationally recognized standards for high-visibility garments that we must wear when working in or near moving traffic.

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