Safe Parking: Part 1

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SUBJECT: Safety Procedures When Working In or Near Moving Traffic
TOPIC: "Struck-By" LODD Statistics and Official Temporary Work Zone Terminology
OBJECTIVE: Responders will better understand the nature of U.S. "struck-by" line-of-duty deaths and will increase their awareness of the standards and guidelines presented in the DOT's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
TASK: After reading through this information, study and discuss the latest "struck-by" incidents and close calls as presented on the website of the Responder Safety Institute by visiting www.respondersafety.com for details.

For 2002, authorities documented seven U.S. firefighter fatalities due to being struck by moving vehicles; of those, five occurred while the firefighters were working in or near moving traffic at fire or traffic accident scenes.

Of the 57 U.S. firefighter line-of-duty deaths reported by mid-August of this year, two were moving-traffic "struck-by" incidents. On March 18, 2003, 20-year-old Lance Mathew, a firefighter with the LaBelle-Fannett, TX, Fire Department was struck by an 18-wheeler at 3 A.M. while crossing Interstate 10. He had responded in his personal vehicle to a minor collision on the highway and arrived ahead of the emergency vehicles.

Thirty-one days later, in Medford, NJ, 63-year-old Woodrow Pinkerton succumbed to injuries sustained when he was struck by a car while controlling traffic on State Highway 70 at the scene of a motor vehicle accident on a foggy morning. The accident was the fifth in a series of 10 accidents in just over an hour that morning.

Series Overview

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Photo by Ron Moore
If this is how your department currently operates while working in or near moving traffic, you are prime candidates to be victims of the next “struck-by” incident.

As our line-of-duty death statistics continue to show with each passing year, working in or near moving traffic places responders at significant risk of injury or death. Regardless of whether you volunteer your services or are paid for what you do, when you are at a crash or fire scene and are working in or near moving traffic, you are considered a "highway worker" and fall under federal Department of Transportation (DOT) standards and regulations. The content of these national regulations is just now becoming known to the fire service and the impact of these federal highway standards is beginning to have an effect on our incident scene operations. This first University of Extrication article of the safe parking series will introduce these standards and provide an overview of their content.

Laws and regulations didn't stop the alcohol-impaired drivers who killed several of our firefighters last year in struck-by incidents. Even DOT standards won't prevent the speeding 18-wheeler from crashing into your emergency scene. Proper highway response training, improved highway safety personal protective equipment (PPE), special techniques for advance warning to approaching motorists and the skills necessary to create a physical barrier between you and moving traffic will. Highway traffic management techniques, the latest highway safety PPE and critically important personal survival skills are the focus of the additional articles of this multi-part University of Extrication series.

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) publishes a document called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, otherwise known as the MUTCD. It contains all national design, application and placement standards for traffic control devices.

The MUTCD is adopted by reference in accordance with title 23, United States Code, Section 109(d) and Title 23, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 655.603, and is approved as the national standard for designing, applying, and planning traffic control devices. The existence of the MUTCD means that all traffic-control devices we utilize and even the actions we take as emergency responders when working in or near moving traffic must comply with MUTCD standards. There are no exceptions.

The incident area and temporary traffic control zone. Anytime we respond to an incident that affects normal traffic flow on a highway, whether it is a lightly traveled rural road, a busy city intersection or a multi-lane superhighway, our presence creates what is legally referred to as a temporary traffic control zone. Section 6A.01 of the DOT's MUTCD defines the overall area of a roadway where temporary traffic controls are set up as an incident area.

The primary purposes of temporary traffic control at a highway incident area are to move traffic safely and efficiently through and around the incident, to reduce the likelihood of secondary crashes, and to insure the safety of those working in or near the moving traffic. Secondary crashes are those which occur within the traffic jam created by an incident and can be more serious than the original emergency.

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Photo by Ron Moore
Plano, TX, patrol officers were working a traffic stop of a drunk driver when two of their cruisers were plowed into by another intoxicated driver.

Components of a temporary traffic control zone. Temporary traffic control zones are divided into four areas: the advance warning area, transition area, activity area and termination area.

Advance warning area. The advance warning area is the section of highway where road users are first informed about the incident area they are approaching. Advance warning may vary from a single sign or warning light on a vehicle to a series of warning signs, cones, flares or emergency vehicles far in advance of the actual crash or fire scene.

On urban streets, DOT guidelines consider effective placement of the first warning that a motorists encounters to be a distance in feet equal to eight times the posted speed limit. In cases of low-speed residential streets (posted speed limit 35 mph), advance warning can begin as close as 300 feet from the nearest edge of the crash scene. Rural highways are different. Normally characterized by higher posted speeds (55 mph), for example, incidents on these roads should have advance warning extending a minimum of 1,500 feet from the incident. For expressway, freeway, toll roads, other limited-access, high-speed, high-volume roadway incidents, MUTCD requirements call for almost one mile of advance warning for approaching traffic.

Transition area. The transition area is that section of highway where traffic are re-directed out of their normal driving path. Transitions are done through a process of channelization. Fire responders typically use traffic cones and vehicles to create a "merging taper" to move approaching traffic through and around our highway incident.

The DOT states in Section 6C.02 of the MUTCD that temporary traffic control at incident sites should be designed on the assumption that drivers will reduce their speeds only if they clearly perceive a need to do so. That is one reason why advance warning and transition areas have to extend to such long distances ahead of the incident scene.

Activity area. The most critical area at a highway incident that must be safe from moving traffic is referred to as the activity area. It is comprised of the work space, traffic space and buffer space. The work space is the area reserved for emergency response personnel, where work activities such as EMS, fire safety, and extrication tasks take place. The lanes of highway that traffic use to drive past the incident is the traffic space. The distance between the workers and the moving traffic is the buffer space.

Termination area. The termination area is the lane or lanes of the roadway where drivers are allowed to return to their normal travel paths and resume normal speeds. It begins as the drivers pass the work area and proceed away from the scene.

Highway incident safety officer. In order to comply with the MUTCD regulations, individuals who are knowledgeable, trained and/or certified in the principles of temporary traffic control should be assigned responsibility for safety at highway incident scenes to which fire and EMS personnel respond.

Each person who works in or near moving traffic should receive training appropriate to their job. Supervisors should have a more extensive understanding of the principles and guidelines established by the MUTCD for selection and placement of traffic control devices.

The entire 1,500-page MUTCD code is available free of charge via an online website: http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov. Chapter 6 pertains to temporary work zones established by emergency responders. In addition, this website contains a wealth of other MUTCD-related information.

Recommended Advance Warning Distances Per MUTCD Guidelines

Urban street - Low posted speed limit
First warning or sign at 300 feet from incident

Urban street - Higher speed limit
First warning/sign at 1,050 feet from incident

Rural road
First warning/sign at 1,500 feet from incident

Expressway/freeway
First warning/sign at 5,140 feet from incident

Introduction to Part 2

Ever have trouble trying to get an arriving emergency vehicle to pull into position right where you want it at a crash scene? In Part 2 of this safe parking series, newly developed fire service highway terminology will be presented that will streamline this process.


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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