There are an untold number of incidents in which responders have been struck by vehicles while working on roadway incidents. The roadway is one of the more dangerous work environments for emergency responders to operate in because conditions can go from being totally benign to total chaos in just a matter of seconds.
The Roadway Mindset
When operating on the roadway, our minds should always be on the drivers who, for one reason or another, don’t seem to see us or are hell-bent on getting through the accident scene because they can’t be inconvenienced with a delay. There are multiple plausible explanations as to why drivers hit emergency vehicles and first responders, including:
- General inattentiveness
- Visual impairment
- Ill or infirmed
- Talking on a cell phone
- Performing other activities while driving
- Impairment (drugs or alcohol)
- Blinded by bright lights
Take a long look at that list. There are so many factors that could contribute to a motorist endangering a responder that our guard should never be down.
Protecting Your Operating Position
The best thing a crew can do is put themselves in a defensive position by using vehicles to block the roadway. This may not be a popular solution as police officers have an obligation to keep traffic flowing and, in some respects, keeping traffic flowing can improve safety and reduce the likelihood of a secondary incident upstream. However, the safety of responders should never take secondary priority to keeping traffic flowing.
Blocking May Not be Enough
Even when a large apparatus with active warning lights are blocking a scene, civilian vehicles can still strike the apparatus and endanger the responders. It is important to keep in mind that until traffic has been stopped upstream, responders are vulnerable.
The highest and often most complex part of situational awareness development is being able to predict the future. When you look at the list of potential contributing factors above, the potential for a highway incident becomes highly probable. Be mindful and vigilant when you are on the roadway. At any given time there are drivers… many drivers… affected by the list of contributors that result in responder-victim roadway accidents.
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