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Roadway safety in New Jersey
By Chief Robert Edwards

What’s been happening
In response to a rise in incidents on the highways of our area, a number of us decided that something had to be done.  Training sessions have been held in numerous Warren County and Hunterdon County stations with fire, police, and EMS personnel in attendance.   Scene management and personnel safety have served as the focal points for our sessions.  We have taught groups ranging in size from 15 to 50 or more responders.  We have been pleased with the response to our efforts, and are working to schedule more in-station sessions.

Wakeup call
After hearing a Traffic Incident Management Systems (TIMS) presentation, a question arose from the folks in our area.  What about us?  TIMS focused on the delays associated with an extended incident, but it did not address the initial 10-30 or so minutes.  The critical time where responders may be performing patient care or suppression activities was being overlooked.  That is where our local efforts came in.

More than a year ago, a safety seminar was held that included more than a 100 attendees representing police, fire, and EMS agencies from several counties.  As a result of that session, a number of folks began to institute new response guidelines.  Our program was created with the assistance of a Virginia safety officer.  You see down south they appear to be a little ahead of us folks up here in New Jersey.  With bits and pieces of information gathered from across North America, we created an awareness program.  We are working to provide a clear message about how to respond and protect emergency workers at highway incidents.

Emergency responders have realized for some time now that their safety has been in jeopardy each and every time they respond to a roadway incident.  Multi-lane, divided, dual lane, or even the little old country back road all offer the same problem.  Each time we are out there, we face the potential for being hit by an errant motorist.

This exposure to danger has included all types of public and private agencies: fire, medical, and law enforcement.  The difference is that in New Jersey firefighters sometimes appear to be doing things on their own, without coordination, to secure a scene.  Often resulting in bitter feelings between the police and other emergency responders.  The issue of role perceptions is also addressed.

For the most part, the Motoring Public understands that they must get from point A to B on a daily basis.  Any disruption to their efforts to meet their self-imposed schedule creates frustration, and anger.  Technology has worked to provide a number of vehicular gadgets for drivers to use while driving on the road.  Sad to say, that while these may add to the diversion or anxiety factor of their commute, these things multiply their danger to responders upon entering the “delay (incident) zone”.   Emergency responders are now invading the inner sanctum of the frustrated driver.

Recently, several states and organizations have taken a very proactive posture to develop training programs to formalize what this program offers.  Awareness, scene management, and safety for all are at the heart of the program.

So what gives?
In general our seminar sessions cover all aspects of responding.  Not only the work zone area but also questions like seatbelt usage are asked.  The response is usually scary because many responders (firefighters in particular) admit to not wearing seatbelts.  Discussions about state laws and liability usually enter into the session with silence occurring just before the next slide is shown.

Examples of mishaps are provided both in slide and video as the class continues.  These examples of apparatus collisions and rollovers only emphasize the importance of driver training and seat belt usage.

Scene management
We teach a number of critical issues, but primary among them is that “unified command” is needed at all incidents.  The four C’s of ICS or IMS (Command, Communication, Coordination, Cooperation) emphasizes the priority of both personnel and incident safety by helping to clear the perception barriers.  This is accomplished by describing some of the “who does what when” so that each agency has a better understanding of the roles that each plays.

So much seems to be taken for granted by emergency workers that they drift into a zone of operational indifference.  Bad things will not happen to them.  They have been working on the roads of their area for so long that they become complacent.  It is for these reasons that we keep reading about injuries and fatalities to responders not even directly involved with an incident.  As you perform the tasks that may require tasks (extrication, treatment, extinguishment, draft sites, etc.) to be performed, think about this…WHO or WHAT is protecting YOU?

Training for fighting fires, handling medical calls, and criminal investigation, all take an extensive amount of time.  All of that can be for naught if safety work zone and response procedures are not developed, followed, and common sense not used.  Setting up the safety zone, minimizing the number of personnel and apparatus, and utilizing the four C’s of command can keep an incident from getting worse.  That should be the goal of ALL who respond.

Don’t wait until the next state approved course comes about.  Better yet, don’t wait until someone in your department gets injured on the roadway to start preparing.  This applies to every response.

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.

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