University of Extrication Safe Parking - Part2

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SUBJECT: Safety Procedures When Working In or Near Moving Traffic
TOPIC: Highway Terminology for Emergency Responders
OBJECTIVE: Identify specific locations of a highway incident scene using the safe parking program recommended standardized terminology.
TASK: Upon study of this material and given any street, road or highway location within your response district, the reader will be able to identify specific locations using standardized highway terminology.

1_extrication1.jpg
Photo by Ron Moore
Identification of the lanes of this expressway begin on the right with lane 1 and move left for lane 2, lane 3 and lane 4. The right shoulder is also referred to as the outside. The inside is also the left shoulder. The same system is used to identify the lanes of the service road and the opposing lanes of traffic.

Standardized names and terms have been developed to identify specific features of any street, road, or highway where an incident may occur. A first-due police or fire officer can use these standardized terms at a highway incident to direct the placement of apparatus and personnel as they arrive at the scene.

Common highway terminology will reduce confusion, improve the safety of responders and make operations at the scene more efficient:

Lanes of the roadway. The lanes of a street, road or highway can be identified by a number, beginning with the number 1. When facing in the direction that traffic is flowing, the traveled lane of the road furthest to the right is identified as lane 1. If there are two or more lanes traveling in the same direction, the lane to the immediate left of lane 1 is identified as lane 2, followed by lane 3, the next lane to the left and so on. The way to remember this is the lower lane number is typically the slower vehicle speed lane.

1_extrication2.jpg
Photo by Ron Moore
This rural two-lane road runs north and south. Identification of the lanes is simple; the lane directly in front of the camera is lane 1 northbound. The right shoulder is the grassy area at the right of this image. The opposing traffic lane is lane 1 southbound. The southbound right shoulder is where the mailbox and driveway culvert are located.

Right and left. Orientation to right and left are based upon facing in the direction that traffic is flowing. Left is always to the driver's left and right is to the driver's right.

Inside and outside. Inside and outside are terms given to the sides of the highway when facing in the direction that traffic is flowing. Inside refers to the driver's left side of the highway or lane and is commonly used to refer to the middle median or divider of a divided highway. Outside is the name given to the far right of the traveled lanes of a road or highway. Police agencies typically refer to the inside or outside lanes of a multi-lane expressway.

Upstream and downstream. Upstream refers to any area of a highway or any moving traffic that is approaching the actual incident or activity area. Downstream refers to that area that is past the incident scene. Thinking of water as it flows down a stream will assist in remembering the upstream/downstream terms.

1_extrication3.jpg
Photo by Ron Moore
This is a three-lane roadway with all three lanes of traffic traveling in one direction. The engine is blocking lanes 3 and 2. Lane 1 remains open so traffic can flow past the incident scene.

Block. Positioning an apparatus or other vehicle at an angle across one or more lanes of traffic to shield the activity area at an incident scene is known as a block. Blocks are made "to the right" or "to the left" depending upon which way the unit is positioned at the scene.

Activity area. The area at an incident scene that is protected from moving traffic because of the placement of a blocking vehicle is referred to as the activity area. This is an officially recognized term in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration. All fire, EMS, and rescue operations should take place within the protected activity area at an incident scene when working in or near moving traffic. The activity area is on the downstream side of a blocking apparatus.

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Photo by Ron Moore
The upstream block from the engine created a protected activity area around this damaged vehicle. All fire, EMS and rescue activities must take place within this area.

Taper. When emergency responders use signs, cones, flares, or blocking vehicles to direct approaching traffic from the normal traffic lanes into a fewer number of open lanes, the process is referred to as a taper or channelization. Tapers are executed within the transition area of an incident scene. The most common taper used by emergency responders is a merging taper. A longer-length taper is preferred over a short length taper as it gives the motorists more time to merge into the open, unobstructed lanes.

MUTCD Taper Length Criteria: Merging Taper

  • Posted speed up to 40 mph 320 feet in total length
  • Posted speed of 55 mph 660 feet
  • Posted speed 65 mph 780 feet
  • Posted speed 70+ mph 840+ feet

Each warning sign, cone, or flare used in a merging taper should be closer together than the posted speed limit; 35-foot maximum distance between cones when tapering traffic in a posted 35-mph zone, for example.

1_extrication5.jpg
Photo by Ron Moore
Using only the cones carried in the trunk of one patrol car, law enforcement officers have begun a merging traffic taper at this incident. The damaged vehicles are resting in the inside grassy median. Lane 1 northbound remains open while the taper closes off lane 2. The red car at right is upstream of the incident activity area. The tractor-trailer truck shown in the upper left corner of this image is in lane 1 southbound.

Flagger. The term flagger is given to any individual who is trained in traffic-control techniques, proper use of signaling equipment and placement of advance warning devices. At an incident scene, a flagger is responsible for specific traffic control responsibilities and manages the flow of vehicles as they travel through an incident scene.

Part 3 of this University of Extrication series on safe parking will address specific apparatus and emergency vehicle response and placement procedures to create a safe environment at a highway incident scene.

TASK: Considering the following images of roads and multi-lane highways as examples, use the recommended highway terminology to identify the following specific locations:

  • Lane 1
  • Lane 2
  • Lane 3

  • Right
  • Left

  • Inside
  • Outside

  • Right Shoulder
  • Left Shoulder

  • Upstream
  • Downstream

Get In - Do Your Job - and Get Out in Less Than 30!

According to Section 6G-2 of the newly revised Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), if we want our on-scene activities to be considered temporary and of short-duration, then they cannot exceed 30 minutes. MUTCD calls this a minor duration traffic incident. If we are there longer than that, then it is considered that we have established an intermediate (30 minutes to two hours) or major duration (more than two hours) work zone and additional, more stringent DOT regulations and highway management requirements apply.

For example, an intermediate-duration work zone requires advance warning for a minimum of a half mile before the same incident scene that would only require 300 feet of warning if we were there for just a short time; say 20 minutes or less. In addition, advance warning for a short-duration work zone can legally be just one vehicle with a flashing light to notify approaching traffic of the hazards ahead of them. The same crash scene, once we are there longer than one hour legally becomes an intermediate-duration work zone and may require as many as 75 or more cones plus warning signs to comply with the DOT advance warning guidelines.

-Ron Moore


Ron Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the Firehouse.com "MembersZone" and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the Firehouse.com website. Moore can be contacted directly at Rmoore@firehouse.com.

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