After passing by the clean-up of an accident involving two semi trucks, a highway maintenance vehicle and a police car I guess it might be a good time to talk about where we park when we respond to incidents on the highway. Unfortunately this incident involved the fatality of the highway maintenance worker and serious injuries to the police officer. This particular incident was probably not preventable but there are a lot of things we can do to be as safe as possible working on the highway.
We all worry about getting hurt at a fire, whether it is breathing some smoke, falling through a roof or getting hit by debris. I have said for several years that the most dangerous thing we do is work on the highway. We respond to all kinds of incidents in all kinds of weather on our highways. A lot of these calls we respond to happen during bad weather when roads are slippery and visibility is limited. Those conditions make our job even more dangerous.
Bunker gear these days is made with a lot reflective striping. We have added more flashing lights and strobes to our vehicles. We are making everything reflective and can even but a glow in the dark band on our helmets to help people to see us. Somehow vehicles still seem to drive into emergency vehicles parked at accidents. When we park we need to put our safety ahead worrying about causing a traffic jam. Vehicles should be parked on an angle completely blocking the accident and also the lane that we will be working in to perform whatever it is we are doing there. There are a lot of police officers out there that like to try and direct us where to park when we arrive, and they are usually thinking about traffic. If we block those lanes and park on an angle that big fire engine or rescue squad will act as a block to whatever might be coming towards us. Since our blocking vehicle is parked on an angle if it does get hit the vehicle hitting us will be pushed away from our scene instead of piling things into the accident scene. Make sure you park far enough away so that you have a large enough safe space between you and the approaching vehicle.
All of our departments have policies about wearing SCBA. Most of those policies include wearing an SCBA for a car fire. I am not in favor of wearing an SCBA for car fires, especially when those car fires are on the highway. When I am working a car fire I have the ability to move away from the smoke. I don’t need to stand in a smoke cloud or stick my head into that burning vehicle. I am actually safer not getting that close since there are a lot of projectiles that can come from that vehicle. I have never put on an SCBA and improved my ability or my ability to communicate. I want to be able to hear the traffic, see the traffic and be able to let people know if we need to get out of the way. I don’t encourage you to disobey your department policy but maybe you should have a discussion about SCBA use on the highway.
This is just one more of those instances where we all need to be aware of our surroundings. No matter what you respond to, or what your role is on the call make sure you stay aware of what is going on and communicate those things to your crew if necessary.