Safety 101 - Lesson 23

June 6, 2008
This article explores the 10 key points to risk analysis while fire and EMS crews are operating on busy roadways.

Each year there are firefighters, emergency medical personnel, law enforcement personnel, tow operators and other responders to highway incidents are struck and killed while operating on the highway.

These incidents may be common experience for some or unique for others.

In either case you must remember to focus on key issues a fire officer and safety officer should consider when responding to highway incidents.

When this concept was undergoing research and development, teams of fire, EMS, law enforcement, tow operators, the media, hazmat, coroners, and related services developed a 10 point consideration plan.

Earlier in the Safety 101 series, we discussed risk analysis and the development of a safety incident action plan. To some degree, from the big picture, these have been accomplished for you to in identifying the major exposures, loss areas and concerns related to safe operations on the highway and have identified the key points for you to evaluate in your safety incident action plan for these type situations. In fact, the commissioner of one fire department was once quoted "our firefighters need to act as if the public is out to run them over", making them aware of the fact that safe operations on the highway is essential to personal safety.

The 10 key areas of safety consideration while operating on highways include:

  1. Establish the area around the incident as a work zone - protect emergency responders and the victim - before initiating actions, make the "work zone a safe area to work with, rescue the victim and perform related services".
  2. Be visible to the motoring public, wear reflective equipment - protect yourself and your personnel - personal protective equipment standards exist and that equipment must be worn.
  3. Preplan hard-to-get-to or frequent accident locations - advance planning saves time and resources while reducing conflict - you know your area, you know the frequent accident spots, you know what you can and can't do from experience, so plan ahead to bring the right people and equipment and train accordingly.
  4. Stage equipment before bringing it on the scene - don't congest the scene unnecessarily - space is precious at the scene of an accident; keep equipment away until it is really needed.
  5. Bring in the right equipment that briefs the proper resources - the right tools accomplish the job more efficiently - you have to manage the situation, bring the right equipment and people to get the job done right, so do the right thing, and do the right thing right.
  6. Have appropriate lighting - lighting makes performance in the work zone more efficient - this may mean specialized apparatus response which will require pre-planning, special dispatch procedures, and scene control.
  7. Bring adequate water - know in advance where to obtain water supplies and how to get the water to the scene - preplanning is the only way to accomplish this by analyzing prior incidents and thinking what might happen if.
  8. Find a location for EMS triage - the more victims you have, the more coordination is needed for EMS - if multiple victims exist, find a safe area away from traffic movement, vehicle exhaust and related hazards to triage and treat patients.
  9. Establish a vehicle (ground/air) movement capability to transport victims- - work with police to establish the EMS unit flow and predefine air medical transport sites - so that in the haste of trying to solve the problems at hand, don't create another problem by preventing the movement of EMS units.
  10. Establish a communication link as soon as possible with law enforcement - this eliminates a conflicting understanding of needs, roles and responsibilities - knowing the law enforcement and EMS incident commanders at the scene and making sure there is an interchange of what will be done by whom and when, in order to coordinate service delivery.

The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) has established criteria for operating on highways for short, medium and long durations, and you should be aware of these requirements, what equipment and what procedures are needed to effect adherence to these criteria. These are essentially comparable to construction work zones, based on time frames of anticipated operation.

You may, based on your experience, have additional key considerations. If so, make sure that they are integrated to assure awareness, knowledge, understanding, manage conflicts and operate safely in order to enhance:

  • coordination
  • cooperation, and
  • communication
at emergency scenes on the highway. Use this information and other resources at your disposal to establish your own best practices.

Lesson #23
Emergency Responders must establish the equivalent of a construction work zone while operating on highways and work with the consideration that drivers are out to strike you.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!

Related Safety 101 Articles:

DR. WILLIAM F. JENEWAY, CSP, CFO, CFPS, a Contributing Editor, is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in safety and risk management in the insurance industry. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management. He has partipated the NVFC Corner podcasts on [email protected]. To read William's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here.

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