Received a question on how long we should be on-scene at traffic crashes. There is now actually a federal Dept of Transportation guideline that wants us out in an hour or less. Here's the question and my reply. The University of Extrication series will address Safe parking and traffic control measures for responders beginning with the October issue.
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Ron:
Can you offer any clarification of the 20-minute time limit and the 1-hour I find in the DOT Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices? You spoke of a Temporary Work Zone that could be used provided the scene is cleared in 20 minutes. The Manual is a thick book. My brief research indicates that the MUTCD, Millennium Edition includes Chapter 6, Temporary Traffic Control.

Reply:
Section 6B.01 of the manual states “The control of road uses through a temporary traffic control zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and incident management.”

Section 6G.02, Work Duration, in the Standard defines the five categories of work duration and their time at a location:

Long-term stationary is work that occupies a location more than 3 days

Intermediate-term stationary is work that occupies a location more than one daylight period up to 3 days or nighttime work lasting more than one hour.

Short-term stationary is work that occupies a location for more than 1 hour but less than 12 hours.

Short-duration is work that occupies a location up to 1 hour.

Mobile is work that moves intermittently or continuously.

The 20 minute recommendation that I present in my "Safe Parking" program is a court-tested legal thing. Seems that in lawsuits from people involved in secondary crashes or in struck-by responder incidents, the courts have tended to allow non-compliant actions by fire departments and consider these as emergency situations if they occurred within the first 20 minutes of FD arrival. They basically cut us some slack.

If FD is on scene for longer than that, like the hour or more that you spoke of, then the lawyers have an easier time claiming that we had adequate time to establish a compliant highway work zone and better manage traffic. That includes compliant advance warning upstream for the appropriate distance ( posted speed x 8 = distance in feet), adequate transition zone, buffer zone, work area, termination zone. We accept a greater responsibility for traffic management after the 20 minutes and definately after we've been there longer that an hour.

To comply with MUTCD short duration definition, we should be there for as brief a period of time as necessary. It's best to treat crashes like a Nascar pit crew. Get in and get out in less than 20 minutes!!