This article is reprinted with permission from the IPSA blog.
By Lieutenant Joseph “Paul” Manley
Ensuring that first responders return home safely at the end of each shift is a paramount concern for all public safety leaders. The International Public Safety Association (IPSA) is committed to honoring fallen first responders while also raising awareness about line-of-duty deaths.
SURVIVING A VEHICLE COLLISION
On February 4, 2019, a Massachusetts State Police trooper and a tow truck driver were struck while assisting the driver of a disabled car on Interstate 95. On March 9, 2019, a California paramedic was assisting the driver of a car that had gone over the side of the freeway when a tractor-trailer hit both the ambulance and the fire engine at the scene before going over the side of the highway, as well. On March 30, 2019, police officers were at a residence serving an arrest warrant when the suspect arrived home. He fled the scene and, in doing so, he struck a police officer with his vehicle. On April 13, 2019, a Georgia firefighter was struck by a vehicle while directing traffic in a school zone.
These are just a handful of examples of first responders being struck by vehicles reported in 2019. Fortunately, all survived. However, in such incidents, fatalities are common.
“MOVE OVER” LAWS
In response to increasing roadside fatalities in the line of duty, the United States and Canada have passed “Move Over” laws that require motorists to “Move Over” and change lanes to give safe clearance to emergency responders working along the roadsides. The law identifies emergency responders as law enforcement officers, firefighters, ambulances, utility workers and, in some cases, tow-truck drivers.
In the past, Canada and the United States have used this term to apply to two different concepts; however, this is beginning to change as Canadian provinces have begun expanding the scope of their “Move Over” laws. This legislation currently exists in six Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec). Currently, in the United States, only Washington, D.C. does not have the “Move Over” law.
REDUCING VEHICLE-RELATED TRAGEDIES
To reduce the number of injuries and deaths to first responder personnel due to vehicle collisions and being struck while operating in the roadway, all parties involved must take responsibility for addressing and solving the problem. This includes agency administrations, labor organizations and individual members. If any of the links in this chain fail, the likelihood of unnecessary injuries or deaths increases.
While the service that first responders provide is different, the responsibilities associated with managing the hazards and reducing risks associated with vehicle response and roadway scene safety are generally similar. Below are four recommendations to reduce vehicle-related LODDs:
1. Watch your speed. When responding to a call or your partner is calling for backup, the best thing you can do to help him or her is to get there. Excessive speeds have killed thousands of innocent bystanders. Victims include the first responders involved, children, teenage drivers and the elderly.
2. Always wear a seat belt. Empirical research shows that wearing a seat belt will save lives. First responders need to buckle up, despite any temporary discomfort duty gear may impose.
3. Conduct a formal review of all collisions: Those who fail to recognize past events are doomed to repeat them. This is certainly the case in the area of vehicle and roadway safety. Much can be learned from reviewing previous incidents where losses were incurred. However, to be able to do that, an agency must be diligent in thoroughly investigating all crashes and struck-by incidents within their agency. The focus of this review must be to identify the circumstances and causes surrounding these incidents.
4. Improve incident scene safety. Here are several roadway response best practices agencies can adopt to improve scene safety:
- Stage an emergency vehicle with warning devices activated up the road from the accident scene to give approaching drivers ample warning. Similar tactics may be achieved in communities that have sponsored transportation assistance units.
- On limited-access divided highways with unprotected medians, stage a unit with warning devices activated up the road on the opposite side from the accident scene to provide approaching drivers ample warning.
- Position emergency vehicles behind the accident or incident scene, angled toward the roadway to provide a protective shield.
- Deploy adequate flares and warning devices directing traffic around and away from the accident site.
- Require all emergency personnel on scene to wear reflective vests and essential personal protective equipment.
Motor vehicle line-of-duty deaths are preventable. It’s important to remember that when operating a motor vehicle, first responders do so at speeds that are reasonable and prudent for the existing conditions. It is always important to wear seat belts. When operating at the scene of an emergency, placing your vehicle strategically to maximize accessibility, utilization, safety and egress are extremely important to ensure the operation runs smoothly.
About the author
Lt. Manley is a 30-year-plus law enforcement professional and adjunct faculty member at North Shore Community College, Danvers, Massachusetts. Paul is the founder of Risk Mitigation Technologies, LLC, and currently serves as the executive officer for the Nahant Massachusetts Police Department. Paul has a master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Anna Maria College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from American International College. Paul is honored to be an IPSA board member and vice-chair of the IPSA Memorial Committee.