1 Department, 2 Close Calls – Within an Hour!

March 1, 2005

There are many ways we can work to reduce firefighter injury and death. And it is clear that “we” keep getting hurt or killed in the same ways. Of course, among our ranks were firefighters who died in the line of duty for genuine and true heroics. No question. But, on the other hand, so many of us have been injured or worse due to tragic events that could have been clearly avoided. Unfortunately, we are generally slow to accept change on our job and therefore the same bad stuff keeps happening.

There are some fire departments and officers within those fire departments that have learned what has happened to “that other” fire department and due to firefighter safety and survival being a top priority, make changes without excuse. These fire departments and their members are focused on not “letting history repeat itself” at their department. It’s just a matter of how badly the fire department and its firefighters, company officers and chiefs want every member to come home after every run.

Firefighters being struck by vehicles is a big issue – and it keeps happening. Some fire departments have clear and strict policies that apparatus must block and protect the scene to protect members working. A good policy must be developed with the understanding that the police also benefit from this.

We don’t usually identify fire departments in this column, but several departments have written to us recently and are willing to openly share their stories. That is a refreshing approach-as volatile as it can be at times.

This month, we are going to look at two near-tragic events that occurred involving the City of Dover, NH, Fire & Rescue Department and one that occurred in Ohio as I was writing this column. Our sincere appreciation goes out to Chief Perry Plummer and the members of Dover Fire, and especially Captain David “Mac” McClean for his outstanding cooperation in the preparation of this month’s column. Also, thanks to the officers and members of the Deerfield Township, OH, Fire Department for their assistance regarding their recent close call that occurred at the time of this writing (see page 30).

This account is provided by Captain McClean:

Much has been published over the past few years about the highway dangers our fire and rescue responders face daily. The City of Dover Fire & Rescue Department heard the warnings loud and clear and began implementing safety procedures in an attempt to avoid having one of our firefighters become a statistic.

By way of background, Dover Fire is under the command of Fire Chief Perry Plummer and operates out of two fire stations covering an area of 27 square miles. The population is approaching 30,000. The city experiences a daily population increase with several large employers located within the city. The fire department is staffed on a daily basis with eight firefighters and two officers. The Central Fire Station responds with a three-person engine company and a two-person advanced life support (ALS) transport ambulance. The South End Fire Station responds with a three-person engine company and a two-person truck company operating a 102-foot tower ladder. Personnel work a 42-hour week on a 10/14 schedule. Last year, the department responded to 5,000 calls for emergency services.

After reading about fire departments experiencing tragic incidents on the roads and highways, we did some research to determine how we should best protect our members. Changes that were instituted included requiring all personnel to wear ANSI vests over their bunker gear, running our medium-duty rescue on all highway calls to use as a scene-protecting blocker, new vehicle placement procedures and other policies designed to protect fire personnel. These changes were coupled with an increase in awareness training for all personnel. All personnel are required to read all line-of-duty death reports as soon as they are released and the reports are then discussed at the coffee table. Our members also follow Firehouse® Magazine’s Close Calls column, Firehouse.com for daily firefighter news events and FirefighterCloseCalls.com for training and serious focus on firefighter safety and survival. All of this keeps personnel at Dover Fire from growing complacent. It also offers the department the opportunity to examine how these deaths might be avoided in the future.

The following is an overview of events that occurred on the highway in the early evening of Jan. 2, 2005, when our training and preparation paid off. It was a typical cold, winter day in Dover. The predicted forecast was cloudy and cold with frozen precipitation expected in the late afternoon or early evening. Dover Fire responded to our usual array of medical emergencies, public assists and accidents. The day-shift personnel went about their daily routine of housework, apparatus and equipment checks. As the sun began to set, rain began to fall on the cold ground. The area roads were turning into instant ice skating rinks!

At 2:16 P.M., Engine 4, Rescue 1, an ALS transport ambulance, and Squad 14, a medium-duty squad, were dispatched to 61 Spruce Lane for a vehicle that had struck a utility pole. Spruce Lane is located in a well-traveled residential area. Upon arrival, we observed that the force of the vehicle had split the pole in half, sending all the utilities falling to the ground.

Lieutenant Joseph Fortier assumed command and requested that the utility company, Public Service Company of New Hampshire, be notified and to expedite its response to the scene. The sole victim of the accident was removed and transported to the local hospital. The scene was not secure from traffic, so Engine 4 and Squad 14 remained on scene to prevent any civilians or vehicles from coming into contact with the downed utilities until the power company arrived.

Running through the westerly side of Dover is the Spaulding Turnpike. This is a well-traveled two-lane highway serving as the main route for tourists to reach the northern part of the state. Travelers that evening seemed unaware of the conditions being created by the freezing rain on the highway.

Our communications center began receiving numerous calls for vehicles off the turnpike. The on-coming shift was beginning to arrive for the night shift and the spare engine, Engine 6, was dispatched along with Rescue 2 to the southbound Spaulding Turnpike on the Rochester town line. The lieutenant on Engine 6, Randy Provencher, contacted the communications center and advised of the icy road conditions, and that it would take some time to reach the scene. Squad 14 was available from the earlier scene and was responding. While enroute to the scene, Squad 14 encountered an additional vehicle accident northbound and requested Engine 5 and Rescue 1 to respond. Squad 14 remained on scene as a blocker and to provide assistance to the vehicle occupants. Engine 5 experienced icy road conditions and proceeded at a reduced speed.

As usual, this did not deter cars from passing the apparatus on either side while responding to the scene. At some distance from the scene, we attempted to control the vehicles behind us by taking both lanes. As we have learned in our training, drivers are not paying attention, and our concern was that someone would strike us when we stopped at the scene. We arrived on scene and positioned our engine at a 45-degree angle to the guard rail and blocked the traveling lane about 300 feet from the scene, pursuant to our standard operating guideline (SOG). We exited the vehicle on the guardrail side and the operator exited once the traffic was halted and we proceeded to the scene on the inside of the guardrail. We assisted the squad with the patients. As no one needed to be transported, we signed them off. Due to the high numbers of vehicles off the road, we were advised that tow trucks would be delayed for removal.

The decision was made to keep the individuals in our apparatus and off of the highway to avoid anyone being struck. The Engine 5 crew was returning to their apparatus when a vehicle traveling in the traveling lane apparently did not see the accident scene and hit the rear of the engine on the driver’s side, sending his vehicle into the guardrail opposite the engine. Traffic stopped momentarily. The occupant exited the vehicle and we had to stress to him the need to stay off the highway! He indicated that he had no injuries and we notified the communications center of our circumstance and reported no injuries.

By now, traffic had stopped and the vehicle was guided to a location in front of Engine 5 until the arrival of state police. Traffic was still passing the scene with what we considered a high rate of speed for the conditions. We kept our distance on the opposite side of the guardrail.

While we were operating at this scene, Engine 4 was on the opposite side of the highway about a mile north experiencing the same road conditions and vehicle problems. To their advantage, the accident vehicle had taken up most of the road requiring them to close the road, backing up traffic for at least five miles.

At Engine 5’s scene, the crews continued to work and wait for the arrival of the tow trucks. At this time, the crew could see a vehicle approaching the scene in the blocked lane. Apparently, the driver did not see the accident scene and all the flashing lights. The car began to spin as the driver hit the brake. Within seconds, the spinning vehicle struck the back of the blocking Engine 5. For the second time in just over one hour, our pumper had been struck. This accident resulted in totaling the vehicle that struck the pumper.

We immediately stopped all traffic, began to render aid and notified the communications center of the accident. This time, the officer’s side of the engine sustained a majority of the damage. The female patient was examined and, remarkably, did not require medical treatment. The trooper on scene performed a field sobriety test, which she failed, and she subsequently was arrested.

There were a few factors that we feel contributed to these accidents. First and foremost was the weather. The time of day was also a factor. With a dark and rainy highway, visibility was poor. The New England Patriots had just won a big game; therefore, many people were returning from football parties, including the driver involved in the second accident. These events and factors are not foreign to responders anywhere in the United States.

There is no question in our mind that had it not been for the safety procedures developed and adhered to, we would have lost one of our brothers or sisters. Most of our “lessons learned” came prior to this night, affording us our more successful outcome. The following represents some of these “lessons learned”:

  • We discussed as a department what we could do to prevent our people from becoming statistics on the roadway.
We implemented procedures on how to stagger vehicles to protect our members and accident victims. We advised our members to remain out of traffic and in a protected area. We have all members wear reflective vests over their protective clothing for better visibility. We have added the response of our squad on all highway incidents to detour and block for our personnel. We discuss safety procedures and what is working for all shifts through monthly officers’ meetings. We send out to each shift updates on roadway incidents taken from current fire service periodicals for mandatory discussion.

These comments are based on Chief Goldfeder’s observations and communications with the writer and others regarding this incident:

It is clear after reading this account and talking to the members of Dover Fire that the priority is the safety and survival of its members. Many fire departments and fire department leaders talk about firefighter safety, but not all “walk the walk,” so to speak. It doesn’t take more than a little while visiting almost any fire department on a scene or at their station to determine whether the top priority at that fire department is to have every member come home after every run.

A few hints can include:

  • Seatbelt use, meaning that the apparatus doesn’t budge until the officer knows everyone is belted in.
Backing policies, meaning that the apparatus doesn’t back up until the backer is in position, can be seen and heard such as by radio by the driver, and the officer gets out of the apparatus to supervise. Safe, sane and legal driving policies and qualifications. Scene protection-so members operating aren’t placed in any more of a hazardous area than absolutely necessary. Strict enforcement of personal protective equipment (PPE) use. Realistic and daily use of the incident command system so when “the big one happens,” everyone is used to using the system. The fire department’s ability to provide qualified and trained officers to run the incident or sectors, -be it a fire or other emergency. The fire department’s ability to quickly and effectively get water on the fire. The fire department’s training plans and schedule. A fire radio system that the firefighters actually like. Firefighter safety and survival reminders wherever you look! What I mean by that is, pretty much everywhere you look at some fire departments there are reminders of what the priorities are. In some fire departments, it is posters, training bulletins, articles or the actual apparatus setup to insure safe and effective operations. These observations are clear and visible demonstrations that the fire department, its officers and members actually give a damn. At other fire departments, it may be some coffee cake, video games, soda and beer cans. It all depends where you go and what’s important to those running the show.

Of course, those are just a few areas that can be used to “measure” how a fire department will function before and during a run. There are many, many more. This month, specifically, we are focusing on our operations on the roads and highways. Readers of this column are urged to take a few minutes and check out: http://www.lionvillefire.org/hwy_safety/ or go to www.LionvilleFire.org and click on “Highway Incident Safety for Emergency Responders.” This is part of the website operated by the Lionville Fire Company in Pennsylvania. This specific section is written by well-known public safety instructor Jack Sullivan and focuses on the tragic loss of one of its members on the Pennsylvania. Turnpike. However, it also has numerous resources available online to help prevent our members from being struck while operating on the roadways. This site is well worth your time.

Any of us working along roadways run the risk of being struck by a motorist. To prevent such incidents, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that fire departments and firefighters take the following actions:

Fire departments:

  • Develop, implement and enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) regarding emergency operations for roadway incidents. Just like at a fire, we need to pre-plan what we will do when we approach, arrive and operate.
Implement an incident management system to manage all emergency incidents. Establish a unified command for incidents that occur where multiple agencies have jurisdiction. This can be helpful when interacting with police agencies that may not agree with your plans. By working on this BEFORE the incident, life is better for all concerned. Ensure that a separate incident safety officer (independent of the incident commander) is appointed. This radio equipped person should have 100% focus on the scene-and what may approach the scene. Develop pre-incident plans for areas that have a high rate of motor vehicle crashes. Just as your fire department pre-plans target hazards (of course you do), target the “bad areas” where history has proven that you are even more at risk. Establish pre-incident agreements with law enforcement and other agencies such as the highway department. Again, the game plan so everyone knows how it is supposed to be managed. Ensure that firefighters are trained in safe procedures for operating in or near moving traffic. This may be a great opportunity to get your local police to interact with your firefighters-and start developing that “better than it used to be” relationship. Ensure that firefighters wear suitable high-visibility apparel such as a strong yellow-green or orange reflecting flagger vest when operating at an emergency scene (check out ANSI Standard 107-2004).


  • Ensure that fire apparatus is positioned to take advantage of topography and weather conditions (uphill and upwind) and to protect firefighters from traffic. We have a choice: some lunatic motorist striking firefighters, police and civilians – or striking apparatus. Dover Fire taught us this one above.
Park or stage unneeded vehicles off the roadway whenever possible. If police have not yet arrived at a scene involving a highway incident or fire, control the oncoming vehicles before safely turning your attention to the emergency. Some EMS folks may argue with this. Argue away, but the fact of the matter is that we have to establish a safe scene before we deal with the emergency we were sent to. Diverting and blocking traffic before we start focusing on the hazards and the injured can make the difference between a traffic crash-and “that horrible day.” Position yourself and any victims in a secure area that maximizes your visibility to motorists when it is impossible to protect the incident scene from immediate danger. Use a traffic control device that maximizes your visibility to motorists when controlling traffic. Never use your body as a device to block or stop traffic. A few weeks ago, I witnessed a firefighter “walk out in front” of oncoming traffic to stop the vehicles. Not smart.

Take a few moments to determine whether the near-tragic events described this month could occur to your fire department. Of course, the answer is yes. The bigger question is to determine whether all of your members are aware of and trained for these kinds of responses. It is also critical to determine whether clear and trained-upon policies and procedures exist.

But the biggest question is (and it always is): Are the safety and life saving related standard operating procedures (SOPs) and standard operating guidelines (SOG) at your fire department strictly enforced by the company officers? If not, none of this matters at your fire department and the end results are predictable.

Firefighters Protect Themselves at Interstate Highway Crash Scene
Photo By Captain Douglas Wehmeyer/Deerfield Township FD Firefighters in Deerfield Township, OH, used their apparatus to safely block the scene of an interstate highway crash scene. Moments after their arrival, a motorist drove into the blocking apparatus. Because arriving firefighters followed procedures by protecting the scene, they escaped serious injury – or worse. In recent months, there have been several close calls involving highway incidents. In yet another example, Deerfield Township, OH, firefighters were working a serious crash on an interstate highway. The roadway was not shut down, but the first-arriving units (after experiencing a near-miss moments after arrival on the scene) requested immediate police assistance with the intent of shutting the roadway down to create a safe working area.

Moments later, a motorist struck the fire apparatus that was intentionally blocking and protecting the working area of the scene. The crash damaged the apparatus and injured the striking motorist. Even though the road had not been shut down, the firefighters followed their fire department’s procedure by blocking the road and protecting the scene. Clearly, those actions by the fire officers and fire apparatus operators saved their own and others lives, including the police. Interestingly, even after the second crash, the road was not shut down by police on the scene.
—William Goldfeder

William Goldfeder, EFO, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 31-year veteran of the fire service. He is a battalion chief with the Loveland-Symmes Fire Department in Ohio, an ISO Class 2 and CAAS-accredited department. Goldfeder has been a chief officer since 1982 and has served on numerous IAFC and NFPA committees, and is a past commissioner with the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. He is a graduate of the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is an active writer, speaker and instructor on fire service operational issues. Goldfeder and Gordon Graham host the free and noncommercial firefighter safety & survival website www.FirefighterCloseCalls.com. Goldfeder may be contacted at [email protected].

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