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Historically, firefighters have been killed or injured while working at the scene of highway incidents. And there is an increasing awareness of the dangers of fireground operations on or near highways. The purpose of this column is to reduce some of the life and injury risks associated with these fire department operations.
The issue of vehicle placement and scene safety can be broken down into five segments:
1. Placement Of Apparatus
Apparatus placement should be based upon a pre-set plan. Part of that plan, the standard operating guidelines (SOGs), must be to make the area safe for the responding manpower before you commit to the required emergency activity. The plan requires flexibility to vary with the degree of exposure and include other responding agencies such as law enforcement, EMS, roadway maintenance and towing services. As part of the pre-planning and training, consideration should be made for the special, traffic warning and control equipment that may be required and how it will be transported. For volunteer groups, the plan must include placement of private vehicles.
Whenever possible, apparatus should be parked completely off the roadway. However, some incidents force response vehicles to be parked in traffic lanes. As a general rule park your vehicles completely off the roadway or block the entire lane. Do not partially block a lane, not even by one foot. When a space exists between your vehicle partially blocking the lane and the dotted line or next lane, approaching drivers will study the space to see if they can squeeze through or have to shift over. The fraction of a second spent doing that evaluation can be enough to cause a crash into your vehicle or provoke a sudden lane change. Removing all doubt about the lane obstruction achieves a more efficient response from on-coming drivers.
In special instances a barrier vehicle, usually a full-sized unit like a pumper, is used to block a lane when approaching traffic presents a significant hazard to scene equipment and workers. The barrier vehicle should be positioned before the actual event, and be integrated with the safety zone discussed here. Since this is a high-risk exposure, fire/rescue/EMS personnel should not be working in its proximity. It does not routinely supply equipment at the scene and should have a large, directional, traffic arrow described below, and amber warning beacons or amber filament flashers. The rear of the vehicle should be constructed to display alternate yellow and black retro-reflective/fluorescent diagonals. Park all responding vehicles on the same side of the roadway.
For two-lane roads with opposing traffic, when the accident is off the roadway, the first on-scene unit should park on the shoulder of the same side as the accident. If there is not room on the shoulder, block the entire lane. The rest of the response should follow suit and park on that same side. This may allow enough space to permit other apparatus to navigate through the immediate area because the first vehicle on the scene may not carry the appropriate equipment. When the accident blocks a lane, consider shutting down the roadway. Turn off all flashing lights except amber rotating beacons or amber filament flashers. Do not employ any strobes. (An arrow display may not be useful.) The greater the number of flashing lights on the scene, the more light colors displayed and the more intense the flash brightness, the greater the likelihood of a motorist driving into the scene and apparatus. (See “The Case For Amber Emergency Warning Lights,” Firehouse®, February 2002.)
On a wider highway or interstate with two lanes in each direction, parking on the shoulder closest to the incident eliminates the need for emergency personnel to cross an active highway. Park your vehicles completely off the roadway or block the entire lane. If you need more room to work safely, shut down both lanes. When you are situated, turn off all flashing lights except amber rotating beacons or amber filament flashers and large directional arrows. Do not employ any strobes. If the accident occupies a lane or lanes, parked apparatus before the scene may be a barrier for those lanes.