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January 31, 2003
Safety PSA, Training, or Legislation?
Robert Edwards Jr, CFO
Upon receiving a current issue of Every Second Counts (free National Safety Magazine), I started perusing it.  This month it contained an article about EMS safety.  It listed the number one safety issue for EMS responders as being while operating around vehicle incidents. 

The article goes on to talk about how exposed personnel are while going about their duties. 

It goes on to mention that many responders do not wear personal protective equipment (PPE) similar to firefighters.

Now many departments, that provide fire/rescue services, do not require full PPE when providing patient care BUT they do require personnel to don a reflective vest while working on the roadway.  Additionally, many have procedures in place dictating the placement of traffic cones and apparatus positioning.

Reflecting back, my thoughts were about when was the last time I saw a law enforcement officer wearing a reflective vest at a roadway incident scene.  It was what you might call basically non-existent.  Other than a picture taken on the DC beltway, not one could I remember in New Jersey.

Recently, I participated in a meeting that was intended to address responder safety on the roadways.  This meeting included representatives from many state agencies that have a primary interest in this subject.  I was the outsider.  Many of you might be saying…oh-oh, trouble.  You don’t know how right you are!

Please believe me when I tell you to be prepared if the issue to be discussed is of importance to you.  Getting cast immediately into explaining the “why we are all here” certainly put me on the hot seat.  I did not call the meeting!  It became more of an information sharing session revolving around public awareness via public service announcements (PSA), responder training, and legislation. 

Let me say that felt that I was cast into a role of trying to speak for only the fire/EMS emergency responders.  As I see it, this list includes law enforcement, emergency medical, firefighters, hazardous material teams, cleanup crews, recovery or tow truck operators, emergency management, and more.  As some attendees tended to focus upon the interstate highways, my intent was to address ALL roadway incidents.

Okay, let us address the first task…Public Awareness.  If an incident resulting in injury or a fatality happens locally, it gets some local media attention but give it a day or two and then you might find the story behind the want ads.  Let alone the close calls that have gone not reported?

Some departments have taken the initiative to create their own video PSA.  Do you know of anything being done in your area or state?  In this case the push is to have the Division of Highway Safety promote the effort.  It is extremely important on how the information is presented.  The public needs to know that this issue has become a major concern to us.  Do we have to wait until more responders get injured or killed?  We know the audience includes both current drivers of the road and the “future” drivers.  “Refreshers” need to be communicated to the public.  Let’s face it …they forget very quickly after the immediate crisis has passed.

Next to address was the need for Training of all responders.  But first, a standardized approach must be agreed upon.  Once accomplished, as outlined in the soon to be released MUTCD (Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices) chapter 6-I, additional awareness training may be offered.  If everyone responding understands what is expected at an emergency scene, then it should help to minimize personnel exposure.  Using Highway Incident Model Procedures or other existing documents such as those available on the website, will help towards that goal. 

Training can help you to understand the roles and needs at the emergency scene.  Some of the scene problems have been the result of leadership changes.  “Role perceptions” of what needs to be done versus established protocols being tainted by past experiences or a responder’s attitude.  Training together would ideally ensure understanding between agencies continues.  Knowing that is not a task easily accomplished, a better solution might be to have a single program that describes roles and precautions.  Pennsylvania Fire Academy has jointly developed a few very good programs (on CD) addressing the issue. 

During the meeting mentioned earlier, it was stated that training does exist that addresses roadway safety operations.  If you know of any being provided for emergency responders in New Jersey, please let me know of it. 

Unfortunately, many responders do not have a clear perception of what everyone’s role is at an emergency scene.  Many focus on only their job.  What training are you doing in your department?  This can only be enhanced via development of working relationships.  How about an MOA (memorandum of agreement) including all four of the primary response agencies (Law, EMS, Fire, DOT)?  Getting the MOA signed, we also need top down management acceptance, yes?

Lastly, the challenge of addressing new Legislation was met with “Is more needed?”  In New Jersey, law enforcement representatives said no emphatically to another law being required at the recent meeting.  “There are plenty in place that address this issue!”  Apparently my research has identified 15 other states (plus Ontario, Canada) that have thought differently and passed legislation to address responder safety. 

Well at this point the jury is still out here on whether time was wasted or will progress continue.  What will you do?  Take the bull by the horn and prepare your people for operating on the roadways safely?  Establish your procedures, get the equipment, practice good scene management, and enforce SCENE SAFETY.  You can do it…others are. 

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