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 motivated to get 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 we should always be on high alert.
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 if a police officers has an ambition to keep traffic flowing. In their defense, keeping traffic flowing may 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 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.
About the Author
Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, CSP is widely considered a trusted authority on human factors, situational awareness and the high-risk decision making processes used in high-stress, high consequence work environments. He served 33 years on the front lines as a firefighter, EMT-Paramedic, company officer, training officer, fire chief and emergency incident commander. His doctoral research included the study of cognitive neuroscience to understand how human factors flaw situational awareness and impact high-risk decision making.
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