Safe Parking – Part 5: Special Safety Equipment

Feb. 1, 2004
SUBJECT:Safety Procedures When Working In or Near Moving TrafficTOPIC:Highway Safety Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Signaling EquipmentOBJECTIVE:Understand the specifications, application, and use of special safety equipment when working in or near moving trafficTASK:Upon study of this material, a responder shall be able to demonstrate proper donning of personal PPE and use of highway safety equipment and signaling devices

Let’s look at highway safety equipment, starting with the most important item, your personal protective equipment (PPE). Section 6E.02 of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) states that workers shall wear bright, highly visible clothing when working in or near moving traffic. This guideline includes fire/rescue personnel, EMS crews, law enforcement officials and even tow truck operators.

Courtesy of Mifflin Valley Reflective Apparel Features of ANSI-compliant highway safety vests include the lime-green or orange main vest color with the contrasting color stripes and reflective trim. Highway Safety Garment Classifications Class I highway safety vests are appropriate when traffic speeds are less than 25 mph, workers are separated from approaching traffic and workers can give their undivided attention to oncoming traffic. Class II vests are normally specified when traffic speeds exceed 25 mph, work takes place in or near moving traffic, during inclement weather, and the workers’ tasks occasionally divert their attention from traffic. Class III garments offer the greatest visibility to workers in high-risk environments that involve high task loads, a wide range of weather conditions and traffic exceeding 50 mph. The design of Class III garments allows workers to be conspicuous through a full range of body motions at a minimum of 1,280 feet, and when the workers must focus all their attention on their work and not traffic.

The International Safety Equipment Association, in an attempt to decrease the chances of roadside worker death, has published the American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel (ANSI/ISEA 107 1999) standard in 1999. This is a recommended national standard developed to guide employers when choosing worker highway safety vests, jackets and other safety garments. Essentially, emergency responders should wear Class III at all times when working incidents in or near moving traffic. In lieu of a safety vest, full structural PPE is acceptable assuming the reflective trim material is in good working order.

There are three classes of ANSI-compliant safety vests, based on the combined amount of daytime fluorescent background material and retro-reflective material for nighttime visibility. Class III garments are the highest rated and most highly visible.

Class III garments can be specially designed vests, high-visibility jackets, pants or rainwear. The ANSI protective gear standard specifically recommends Class III garments for all emergency responders and accident site investigators. MUTCD Section 6E.02 specifically recommends that law enforcement officials use high-visibility clothing when working highway incidents. Class III vests or jackets should be required to be worn by all responders at highway incidents. An interesting video news clip demonstrating retro reflective Class III garments is available here.

In addition to the visibility classes, high-visibility fabrics are also rated as one of three distinct levels of protection. A Level I garment has high-visibility. A Level II garment has high-visibility and flame retardance. Level III garments provide high-visibility, flame-retardance and electric-arc-resistant burn protection.

Photo By Ron Moore At least one NFPA 1500-compliant retro-reflective fluorescent pink highway warning sign should be deployed upstream of the incident to advise approaching traffic of the emergency scene ahead.

The following Class III, Level II Highway Safety Vest Specification example was prepared for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department and is courtesy of Mifflin Valley Reflective Apparel, Shillington, PA (

“Custom ANSI Safety Vest is to be constructed of 3.65oz High Visibility Polyester, Blaze Orange in color, and 3oz High Visibility ANSI Mesh, Lime/Yellow in color. Vest is ANSI/ISEA 107-99 Class 3 Compliant. Vest features a Velcro front closure as well as Velcro (color matched) break-a-way shoulders. Vest also features a mesh insert on each side of the vest, approximately 4 1/2” wide and a mesh insert, approximately 2 1/2” wide, running vertically down the center of the back. Reflective trim will consist of two 1” 3M Scotchlite silver reflective trim fused to 4.5” lime/yellow grosgrain. Grosgrain (and trim) will be placed horizontally around the mid section and one stripe running vertically over each shoulder for the entire length of the vest. In addition to the grosgrain, a 1” Silver 3M Scotchlite reflective stripe will be placed diagonally from the shoulder seam to the top of the vest opening (framing the neck area.) Additional features include a microphone tab on each upper shoulder and a pen holder placed on the left chest area between the vertical reflective stripes. Vest will be imprinted on the right front vertical stripe, between the reflective stripes to read ‘FIRE’ in black ink. In addition, an approximately 4” x 18” 3M Scotchlite silver reflective panel will be imprinted ‘McKINNEY FIRE,’ and will be placed across the back of the vest.”


Fire, rescue and EMS personnel working in or near moving traffic should be required by their agency to always wear protective head gear. Structural fire helmets are most appropriate for fire department personnel. In addition to the obvious head protection afforded by the helmet, under low light or nighttime incidents, the reflective trim material that exists on all sides of the helmet significantly increases the motorist’s recognition that a person is in front of them.


Section 8.4.27 of the most recent edition of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1500 now requires deployment of a special advance warning sign when fire responders work in or near moving traffic. To address this requirement, fire department are purchasing and assigning fluorescent pink retro-reflective pop-up signs to their fire apparatus. These advance-warning signs are designed to be quickly deployed upstream of any emergency incident. Costing approximately $250 for the basic unit, these signs use the official DOT-specific retro-reflective fluorescent pink to signify emergency warning. High-visibility fluorescent pink is the newly designated color for highway use nationwide to indicate emergency situations or conditions ahead.

Photo By Ron Moore One solution to carrying eight 28-inch traffic cones within the limited storage space on most fire apparatus are the newest “collapsible” cones. Four 28-inch-tall Pop-Up cones only occupy a 12-inch-high stack when stored.

The MUTCD guidelines specify minimum 36-by-36 inch dimensions for the sign when used at incidents with “moderately low volumes and speeds.” The larger size, 48 by 48 inches, is recommended for use at incidents on higher speed highways.


Even those orange cones that everyone is so familiar with have DOT specifications covering their design and use. The function of a line of traffic cones is to warn approaching traffic of a change in their normal traffic pattern. Officially called a “taper,” this row of cones guides the motorist through the required lane changes or temporary road detours.

To be compliant with the MUTCD, any traffic cone used at a nighttime incident or at a crash scene where the posted speed limit is 45 mph or greater, must now be 28 inches tall and have two reflective bands around their tops. When deployed, they should be closer to each other than the speed limit in feet; i.e., closer than 45 feet when deployed in a 45-mph speed roadway, etc.


Photo By Ron Moore When flares are placed near a traffic cone, the light given off by the flare not only warns upstream traffic, but illuminates the cone as well.

Section 6C.02 of the MUTCD recommends that when flares are used to initiate temporary traffic control at incidents, they should be replaced by more permanent devices such as cones or barricades as soon as practical. Flares work well at night to warn motorists of lane changes and merges due to the bright red light they emit as they burn. The visibility of traffic cones can be increased under night conditions by deploying flares and cones together. When flares are placed near a traffic cone, the light given off by the flare not only warns upstream traffic, but illuminates the cone as well.


Photo By Ron Moore The MUTCD-compliant chevron striping pattern on the rear of this Plano, TX, ambulance clearly shows the retro-reflective performance of this highway safety system.

One of the advantages of quick-clearance operations (time on scene less than 30 minutes) at highway incidents is that we are considered a temporary work zone instead of the full work zone if we operate for a longer period. As a temporary work zone, MUTCD Section 6G-3 allows use of more simplified traffic control procedures. For example, appropriately colored or marked vehicles can be initially used as advance warning prior to deploying portable warning and control equipment such as signs, cones, and flares.

Introduced in the U.S. by Chief Bill Peterson of the Plano, TX, Fire Department after extensive visits to England, rear chevron patterns are becoming popular as rear visibility warning for major apparatus. Plano has applied retro-reflective red and lime-green material on the rear of its engines, ladder trucks and ambulances.

Officially classified by the DOT’s highway code as a “vertical panel,” the alternating red and green, red and white, and even blue and yellow patterns provide approaching traffic with remarkably improved visibility of the apparatus ahead. The Arlington, TX, Fire Department has gone one step further with its apparatus visibility efforts. The front bumper of its newest apparatus has the highway chevron pattern affixed to it as well. Because this will work well only when the apparatus headlights are turned off, Arlington designed its rigs to shed the headlights when the parking brake is activated.

Photo By Ron Moore Do NOT orient your chevron striping like this! The stripes must slant downward towards the lower outside corners. When MUTCD-compliant, the striping pattern will resemble an inverted V.

To comply with MUTCD Section 6F.57, the chevron pattern stripes should slant downward on both sides of the vehicle at an angle of 45 degrees, pointing in the direction of the bottom rear corner of the tailboard. The pattern should resemble an inverted V with the point of the V at the top center of the apparatus.


Many police department units as well as fire department vehicles are being equipped with arrow panels. An arrow panel consists of a series of horizontal amber lamps that light sequentially to indicate a direction of travel to an approaching motorist. The DOT requires that they be able to be dimmed to half power when used at night to prevent blinding of approaching traffic. Officially, to be DOT-compliant, arrow panels have to be a minimum of four feet in length.

The difference between what you see on the roof of a police cruiser and what you see at road construction sites is that the road repair work zone arrow boards have a pointed arrow head with a minimum size of 24 inches as required by MUTCD Section 6F.53. This is the critical design flaw that exists with the standard arrow panels used by emergency responders. Without a significant size pointed arrow head, all the motorist sees as they approach the scene is a confusing array of yellow lights blinking on and off.

Courtesy of Captain Rick Elvey/Calgary FD Members of the Calgary Fire Department in Alberta, Canada, wear Class III jackets while deploying cones at an extended-duration traffic incident on a major highway. The large arrowboard, installed on the rear turntable of all fire department quint apparatus, provides clear directions for upstream traffic.

The Calgary Fire Depart-ment in Alberta, Canada, mounted the larger-size arrow boards on the rear of its apparatus to specifically address this shortcoming. Responders are reminded: do not trust effective traffic direction to our present-day arrow panels. They are ineffective and should not be relied upon for emergency scene traffic control.


All the highway safety specialists who study traffic signaling and warning devices agree that the rear lights on emergency vehicles parked at a highway scene should be amber. Many fire departments have adopted the amber rear warning light system.

In situations such as multi-lane freeways, it is recommended to “shed,” or turn off, all forward-facing emergency lights that affect traffic in the oncoming lanes. Light shedding reduces rubbernecking and prevents secondary crashes, especially in the opposing lanes of traffic on the other side of a divided highway.


What To Do in the Early Stages Emergency workers are exempt from full MUTCD requirements for traffic control during the initial phase of a highway incident until they have adequate time to raise the level of traffic control. The earliest time frame listed in the MUTCD for deployment of traffic control devices beyond the basic cones, flares or fluorescent pink signs is the period from 30 minutes after scene arrival. After this operational period, it is expected that law enforcement and local or state highway agencies would be on-scene and have established compliant traffic control that fully meets at least the minimum standards for the extended incident. It is recommended that any traffic control established by emergency responders is better than nothing in the early stages, even if it doesn’t completely comply with MUTCD. Fire departments should accept the responsibility for a minimum level of traffic control devices carried on each responding apparatus; apparatus chevron vertical panel markings, eight 28-inch cones, one retro-reflective fluorescent pink sign, and a supply of warning flares.

There are specially designed orange cones that fit over the end of a flashlight to improve their usefulness for traffic control. Manufacturers today also have created flashlights where the orange cone not only glows but has small LED lights inside of it that flash on and off.


The MUTCD includes several guidelines covering use of the stop/slow traffic paddle. Typically used by flaggers at highway work sites, the 18-by-18-inch paddle is easily recognizable by approaching traffic. In fact, the DOT considers the paddle as the primary and preferred temporary traffic control signaling device because it gives upstream traffic positive guidance. Newer paddle designs now incorporate one or two flashing lights to draw attention of the signaling during low-light conditions.

Experienced responders have used the stop/slow paddle tool for many years for traffic direction. This simple tool is much better than waving your arms!


The DOT recognizes specially designed flags as approved traffic signaling devices. The flags consist of a minimum of 24 by 24 inches of retro-reflectorized red material, weighted along the bottom edge and secured to a 36-inch pole. These simple tools work extremely well for first responders by providing effective advance warning to the approaching motorist.

TASK: Upon study of this material, a responder shall be able to demonstrate proper donning of PPE and use of highway safety equipment and signaling devices.

Ron Moore, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a battalion chief and the training officer for the McKinney, TX, Fire Department. He also authors a monthly online article in the “MembersZone” and serves as the Forum Moderator for the extrication section of the website. Moore can be contacted directly at [email protected].

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