The headlines read, "Five French Firefighters Struck, Killed at Accident Scene". The initial story from our Firehouse.com Home Page states, "Five French firefighters were killed Friday night as they worked at an accident scene on the A7 motorway, according to various French press agencies.
The firefighters were killed when a vehicle driven by an 81-year-old man plowed into them as they assisted the victims of an earlier accident in the southeast part of the country."
Without even being there, I can venture a guess as to things that can go wrong to result in a struck-by death such as this. It's obvious to me that if a civilian vehicle crashes into firefighters at a scene, then there was an unprotected side of the firefighter's work zone exposed to moving traffic. Possibly the first crash on the French A7 Motorway was along the shoulder of the highway and the responders politely parked their apparatus along the side of the roadway trying not to obstruct the flow of traffic at the scene. Maybe the cops required them to park that way.
Once details of this tragedy make their way to the rest of the fire service, it will probably show that the firefighters did not 'block' with their apparatus.
You have to create a safe work zone for your personnel by blocking with your first-due apparatus. It has to be done.
It is also apparent from studying struck-by LODDs that the responders who get hit, at the moment they are struck, typically have their backs to approaching traffic. For some reason, struck-by personnel are not in a sheltered or protected area 'downstream' of their apparatus. There also is typically very little 'advance warning' of the crash for approaching motorists so traffic keeps moving at a fast pace. Speed is what kills. In France, chances are the old guy who killed the firefighters probably didn't know what he hit until the hitting was all over.
Reports of tragic Line-of-Duty Deaths such as this continue to haunt those of us who follow these types of incidents. So far this year, over 8% of all U.S. firefighter LODDs are from the same cause; struck and killed while working in or near moving traffic! These deaths have occurred on city streets, rural roads, suburban highways and major expressways all over the country. It's our new worst enemy and as a fire service, we're being annoyingly slow to recognize it.
If you factor in incidents such as the two cops killed in a struck-by incident last week when they stopped to assist a disabled motorist and the two Oklahoma medics killed last month when an SUV slammed into the back of their med unit as they were standing at their rear bumper, our percentage of LODDs dramatically increases. If you think this is just our problem, for every fire service 'struck-by' death that occurs this year, law enforcement will experience four times that number of police officer deaths killed by moving traffic.
So what do we do? What do you do about it? Stop just reading about it and do something! If you set foot on or near moving traffic, it can happen to you and it will! What is so important to realize is that the possibility of struck-by incidents can be almost totally be eliminated in your department almost overnight.
Get the model SOP for what I call "Safe Parking" from the www.respondersafety.com website. Study it, then discuss what it recommends you do anytime you're working in or near moving traffic. Work out the details of how your department can implement Safe Parking right now; before your next response.
Study and discuss what the SOP recommends in actual classroom training sessions. Follow that up with hands-on practicals where you simulate arrival at a highway incident and you block with your apparatus, create shadows, maintain your buffer zone, protect the loading zone, and don Class III protective attire. If these are unfamiliar terms to you, then you and your department is ripe to be the next struck-by incident.
Volunteer Fireman's Insurance Services(VFIS) will have a great highway safety program available within a month, complete with lesson plan, PowerPoint, interactive CD-ROM scenarios, and hands-on training skills. The Emergency Responder Safety Institute's website www.respondersafety.com has tons of information to get you motivated including the model SOP.
A complete series on Safe Parking will be featured in the University of Extrication series of Firehouse magazine early in 2003. The series will include details on implementing Safe Parking guidelines for your department, an officer's quick reference guide for managing a highway incident, and skills sheets for hands-on Safe Parking drills that any department can conduct.
There are a lot of concerned fire service leaders and prominent organizations working to address the struck-by LODD challenge and eliminate it from our yearly LODD statistics. If you get involved and implement Safe parking within you department right now, we can wipe out this cause of death for emergency responders in your lifetime.
Put Safe Parking practices in action within your department today. There's no excuse not to! In Memory of:
- 20-Mar FF Adam Weisenberger, 19 Gluckstadt, MS
Trauma/struck by vehicle while crossing lanes of I-55
- 25-Mar Captain Alan Frye, 30 Roslyn, NY
Struck by vehicle while rolling hose during training drill
- 11-Apr Chief Earl Hemphill, 61 Russell, KS
Trauma/struck by fire apparatus arriving at crash scene
- 11-Jun FF Shane Kelly, 26 Oviedo, FL.
Trauma/struck by vehicle at crash scene, Florida Turnpike
- 1-Jul Captain Ken Granholm, 29 Esko, MN
Trauma/struck by vehicle at MVA scene, I-35
- 19-Aug Chief John Moore, 42 Ellerbe, NC
Trauma/struck by vehicle at MVA scene, Highway 220
- 29-Nov 5 French Sapeurs Pompiers (fire fighters)
Trauma/struck by vehicle at MVA scene, A7 Motorway