Safe Operations Along Highways & Interstates

To my loyal readers I would like to apologize for the long delay between columns, but I have been out of service for a few months. However, we are now ready to continue with the business at hand. This column will examine a National Institute for...


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To my loyal readers I would like to apologize for the long delay between columns, but I have been out of service for a few months. However, we are now ready to continue with the business at hand.

This column will examine a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report on an incident that occurred in Oklahoma in 1999. The incident caused the death of one firefighter and injuries to a second firefighter and a civilian. All three were struck by a motor vehicle that went out of control on a wet, busy interstate highway.

The fire department involved in the incident serves a population of 58,000 in a 26.5-square-mile area. It is also responsible for a three-mile section of the interstate highway on which the incident occurred.

The fire department requires all new firefighters to receive International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) training and certification. Each firefighter is also trained and certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT).

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Diagram Provided by NIOSH

At 7:20 P.M. on Aug. 5, 1999, a call came into Central Dispatch reporting a single-vehicle crash (car 1) on the westbound side of the interstate. The highway was wet and slippery after intermittent rainstorms. Units responding included Ladder 2 (with a captain and two firefighters), Squad 2 (two firefighters) and one privately owned ambulance. Squad 2 was the first unit to on scene, at 7:23, and reported no injuries. Squad 2 personnel then released the ambulance.

At about the same time, Ladder 2 stopped near the median wall (see diagram) approximately 150 yards directly behind Squad 2 to provide better protection from oncoming traffic for the occupant of the car and the Squad 2 firefighters. The Ladder 2 crew remained in the truck, with emergency lights operating, while the captain called dispatch for an estimated time of arrival of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Suddenly, at 7:26, Ladder 2 was struck from behind by a private vehicle (car 2). As the Ladder 2 crew exited the truck to see if there were any injured motorists, they noticed the driver getting out of the car. She complained of a sore ankle, so they began to check her for injuries. The captain notified dispatch that the ladder truck had been struck from behind by a car, and requested that EMS return to the scene and assist the injured driver. He then asked the city police to respond to the scene to provide traffic control; the highway patrol had told fire dispatch that due to numerous accidents it could not provide a timely response.

Seeing that Ladder 2 had been struck by the car, a firefighter from Squad 2 ran up the hill to check on the Ladder 2 crew and provide assistance. The Ladder 2 crew and the Squad 2 firefighter assisted the driver of car 2 back to the seat of her car so they could attend to her ankle injury. The captain then began to walk eastbound on the inside lane of the westbound highway to flag traffic away from the incident.

At this time, the firefighter directing traffic near Squad 2 saw another vehicle (car 3) cresting the top of the overpass on the inside lane and rapidly approaching Ladder 2. He yelled out two warnings over the radio - "Ladder 2 captain, watch out behind you!" just as the driver of the car lost control. The captain turned and yelled to the other firefighters near Ladder 2, "Watch out, watch out!" At that moment, the firefighter from Ladder 2 and the firefighter from Squad 2 started to move the injured driver from car 2 toward a safe area in front of the ladder truck.

Car 3 spun backward, striking the median wall approximately 20 yards east of Ladder 2. The car slid between the wall and Ladder 2, missing the captain and a firefighter from Ladder 2 before striking two of the firefighters and the injured driver from car 2.

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