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August 16, 2002

Tow Truck Law …are we missing something?
Robert Edwards Jr, CFO
As I perused through the local daily paper today, tucked away in the back was an AP article about the New Jersey Legislature’s passing of a new law.  This one has to do with tow truck drivers.

It seems that in 1994 (yes, 1994) a tow truck stopped to “help” a woman in distress on the interstate.  Not having the money to pay, the tow truck driver left her.  Subsequently, and not having all the details, this woman was hit and killed while waiting for assistance.

Several thoughts immediately crossed my mind.  One was that I hoped the date was a typo because if it takes eight years to pass a law regarding highway safety, we are in a sorry state (pun intended).  Second of all, I can only guess the tow truck driver is living with the memory, common sense should have prevailed to make sure the disabled vehicle was going to receive help from some other source.  True, times have changed since then with the advent of cell phones and the proliferation of mobile radios.

But let us go deeper into what caught my attention.  Has the legislature been looking at “Protecting Responders on the ROADWAYS”?  You can bet your “bippy” that as long as traffic flows, responder safety has not been a priority.  Sure, they react AFTER someone gets killed.  But nationally, the injuries and deaths of responders (FIRE, EMS, COPS), are beginning to occur too frequently.  I can only imagine how many close calls that have happened in recent years. 

Recently, an EMS Captain said to me that the fire apparatus left the scene because they were ordered to do so.  His personnel were busy treating patients and subsequently exposed to moving traffic.  The safety zone had been established but was broken down prematurely because of not utilizing a “UNIFIED COMMAND” and communicating with one another.

Time and time again, fire apparatus is being cancelled or not called at all to assist at a motor vehicle incident.  Automatic procedures are being circumvented because a police officer does not want apparatus on the roadway.  With the shortages of volunteers, especially daytime, EMS does not get on the scene for “some period” of time.  Fire personnel can size up, make victim assessments, sometimes provide lifting assistance, extricate, expedite mutual aid, and/or establish the scene safety zone.  But I guess they know better?  It is called “working together” and understanding the local agency’s capabilities and needs.

Lastly and why the newspaper article hit me.  Several states have been passing legislation that shall help deter motorists coming upon a roadway incident and not slowing down.  Several departments nationally have created local PSA’s (public service announcements) to inform people slow down or yield to emergency vehicles.  What is New Jersey doing or better yet…what is your state doing to help protect your personnel?

If this recent New Jersey law for tow truck drivers is an example of how long it takes, then we should have started a few years ago.  It is never too late and maybe, just maybe, you might review your response procedures.  Cut back or stage your apparatus before arriving on a scene.  Look at when your apparatus drivers use emergency lights or not.  Does there use send a confusing signal to the public? 

About the author: Robert Edwards Jr., CFO, is a 27-years plus member of the volunteer fire service having served the past 17 years as a chief officer of the Bloomsbury Fire Department in New Jersey.  Besides having a computer science degree, he received the Chief Fire Officer Designation in 2001.  He also holds New Jersey certifications as a Fire Service Instructor Level II, Incident Management Level II, and a Fire Official/Inspector.  As an instructor for Hunterdon County Emergency Services Training Center, he has focused on Incident Command, Hazardous Materials, Leadership, and Roadway Safety training. 

Chief Edwards retired in 2001 after 34 years of employment for Johnson & Johnson where amongst information technology duties he was responsible for the implementation and management of an industrial Emergency Response Team.  He was also an integral part of the J&J Y2K Worldwide Command Center and its planning activities. He serves as an instructor for Command School, Inc.
Read his first article