A great deal of my writing over the past decade has come as the editor for the Respondersafety.com website. As the editor, a great deal of what I do involves researching and writing about the highway safety problems which you and I face each and every day. You and I both know that it is tough out there on the highways and byways of our nation. It is my job to share some ways with you that can make your highway safety responses work a little bit safer.
Basically, that is how I have operated for most of the dozen years I have served as the editor of this important Internet resource. But wait. I do have a life outside of my writing and consulting world. From time to time, I still respond as a volunteer firefighter with the Adelphia Fire Company located here in beautiful, downtown Adelphia, New Jersey. As a matter of fact, I have been one of the "Top Ten Responders" for the last several years.
Yes, you might even say that I am on the road a lot. Most of the time, I will be the driver on the first-out pumper during the daytime hours. So I am quite familiar indeed with the quality of the drivers out there who may wish to hit my buddies and me as we work out there on the highways of our fire district. I do not think that I am seeing things which are any different that you are.
Times are tough out there on the highways and byways of our great nation. Let me also suggest to you that things are not going to get better for any of us anytime soon. On those occasions when I am behind the steering wheel of our fire company units, that I am no different than ant of you.
I put my life on the line to protect and serve the citizens of my community. I face a wide array of drivers who could care less that I am chauffeuring a fire truck. No, to them I am just one more roadblock on their road to high-speed happiness. You and I are just something with which the drivers out there have to suffer through.
Let me now share a little story with you. It is an important story because it shows a number of the negative driver behaviors which you and I must anticipate encountering from time to time during our responses on the highways and byways of our response area.
Not too long ago my fire company was sent out on a motor vehicle accident response around suppertime. It was not too hard to find the accident, as it happened in front of our old fire station, which is located right next to our main fire station built in 1965. Let me note for the record that our station is located on a very busy county highway. In my case, I live about 300 yards from the station on the very same highway.
Since the traffic was beginning to back up in front of my house, it was necessary for me to make my way through a convenience store parking lot and onto the side road off of our main road. I then took a back street into the rear entrance of our fire station.
Traffic was really screwy as I pulled our rescue pumper out of the station and moved to a position in front of our old station, about 100 yards away. I was directed to a blocking position by one of our assistant chiefs. I parked the pumper, set the amber stick on the rear to its flashing position and began to set up my highway road cones to block off our unit.
Let me stress that all members of the Adelphia Fire Company operating at this location were wearing their retro-reflective public safety vests as they began to work at cutting the battery cables on both vehicles and stretching a protective hose line. It was at about this time that we noted a number of cars coming past out location and placing us all in jeopardy. There were also cars cutting down the back alley that I used to reach the station. These people were going through the fire station parking lot in an attempt to reach the eastbound lanes of the county road.
At this point, our chief called for the fire police to deploy and cut off the back street. The chief then placed his vehicle next to the patrol car which was blocking the scene at the intersection just west of our accident scene. As I later discovered, our township police were coordinating with the police from the next township over to re-route motorists away from our scene. However, we were still faced with a significant number of cars in the area of beautiful, downtown Adelphia.
It was at this point that I saw one of the stupidest set of driver behaviors which it has ever been my sad misfortune to witness. A traffic safety officer from our police department arrived on location and proceeded to pass around the patrol car/fire chief's car blocking position, so that he could arrive at the accident scene and assist in the investigation. All of a sudden, about a dozen civilian vehicles followed him around the blocking position.
There we were, moving across the highway and loading an ambulance, when we were surrounded by a number of cars trying to get by us. Talk about scary and confusing. It would have been quite easy indeed to have had one of our members, or the EMS or police personnel struck by an errant motorist. Luckily, this did not happen.
It was at this point that the traffic safety officer directed all of the offending vehicles into out fire station parking lot, through the back entrance. He lined them up and proceeded to go from car to car issuing tickets for the various infractions which these errant citizens had committed. I later learned that all of these tickets had been upheld by our local, municipal court.
The ambulances were loaded up and the injured transported to the local hospital. Not long after this, the tow truck came and the accident scene was cleared. Personally speaking, I think we were really lucky at this one. No one was injured. However, a number of lessons were learned and others reinforced.
Here are my thoughts:
· Traffic safety vests must be worn by all personnel (including law enforcement).
· Traffic control must be established
· A highway safety zone must be established
· The alternative traffic routes must be policed so that people will not be trying to sneak by you. This could lead to people being surprised and struck from behind.
· You need to post people to watch the blocking positions.
· Everyone on location must be aware of their environment and keep an eye out for traffic encroaching on the operational area.
We were lucky this time. However, we took the time to discuss this situation and will make our findings part of a future training session. Coordination with law enforcement and EMS personnel is critical. We will continue to work on this.
You never know when the next highway emergency will occur. However, do not trust to luck. Train for these things and you should do a lot better. Take care and stay safe.