Vehicle Rescue Safety - Part II

Almost 8% of the line-of-duty deaths in 2002 were "struck-by" situations while the responders were working in or near moving traffic. Emergency service personnel working in or near moving traffic are killed every year. For example, five responders died...


Almost 8% of the line-of-duty deaths in 2002 were "struck-by" situations while the responders were working in or near moving traffic.

Emergency service personnel working in or near moving traffic are killed every year. For example, five responders died in 2000 in highway-related incidents. Almost 8% of the line-of-duty deaths in 2002 were 'struck-by' situations while the responders were working in or near moving traffic.

These deaths have a common bond: in each case, effective traffic control was not accomplished. Traffic accidents cause traffic problems. Traffic problems cause traffic accidents. Working in or near moving traffic is a high risk activity.

When a fire department arrives at a highway crash scene, a temporary work zone must be established. If traffic disruption continues for more than 20 minutes, considerations of the 'temporary" situation must turn into an extended operation.

Any highway incident lasting more than 60 minutes is looked by traffic management authorities as a highway work zone. There is a federal standard for exactly how a work zone must be organized, including warning signs, traffic direction, flaggers, etc.

Prompt traffic control reduces traffic problems at the scene of an emergency and prevents secondary collisions. Although crowd and traffic control are considered a basic police agency function, lack of control of traffic seriously affects the safety of all concerned.

Traffic control must be an integral part of our hazard control activities and is necessary even when personnel are limited in number. Personnel on the emergency scene must learn to use their vehicles as initial traffic control devices.

The ResponderSafety.com website reports that of the five emergency responders struck and killed by moving traffic at emergency scenes in 2000, several were actually on or near the highway fighting fires. Others were directing traffic. An EMS responder was walking along the roadway with her back to approaching traffic when she was struck and killed.

Assistant Fire Chief Jim Yvorra of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, the fire officer to whom the first edition of this author's vehicle rescue book was dedicated, was one of 139 firefighters to die in the line of duty in 1988. He too was a statistic of the hazards of working in or near moving traffic.

While at the scene of a minor vehicle incident on the Washington Beltway, Jim was struck and killed by a passing motorist. His own fire department members responded to his aid but were unable to save his life. From 1979 to 1988, firefighters struck at or near emergency scenes were most often operating at traffic accidents or vehicle fires. Most fatalities occurred after dark or under conditions of poor visibility.

The most critical initial action that can be taken to minimize these unfortunate occurrences is the proper positioning of our emergency vehicles in a 'block' position. A block position places the large emergency vehicle at an angle to the approaching traffic, diagonally across several lanes of traffic.

This position begins to shield the work area and protects the crash scene from some of the approaching traffic. Under normal circumstances, the initial emergency vehicle to arrive at the crash scene should 'block' on the 'upstream' or approaching traffic side of the damaged vehicles.

A 'right block' or 'left block' means that as the responding vehicle arrives on scene, it turns at a right or left angle.

In this block position, the emergency vehicle's lights warn approaching traffic of the presence of the incident ahead. Most importantly, the vehicle acts as a physical barrier between the crash scene work area and approaching traffic.

The block position is best fulfilled by a fire department engine or ladder company apparatus. Rescue vehicles that crews will work off of at the scene should be positioned close enough to the work area to be protected by the engine or ladder truck.

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