Training like your life depends on it

Putting traffic incident management into practice can help us influence high-frequency, high-risk environments we can’t control


By Marc Bashoor

Firefighters and EMS clinicians train, we read, we talk and we train again, on Maydays, hazardous materials responses, technical rescues and MCI trauma treatment – you name it, we spend a lot of time training to rescue others and to stay alive. Similar to law enforcement and bomb squad training, a common thread to nearly every one of these and many other training scenarios, is the need to limit our time on target.

You’ve probably spent time studying traffic incident management, but when was the last time you spent time with practical work exercising the concepts of blocking, lane control and temporary traffic management?

As roadway distractions and the number of struck-by incidents have increased, we need to focus just as much on getting off the roadway as we do getting there and getting the job done.
As roadway distractions and the number of struck-by incidents have increased, we need to focus just as much on getting off the roadway as we do getting there and getting the job done. (Photo/Getty Images)

ROADWAY HAZARDS

There was a time where we generally depended on a well-trained driver to be paying attention and give emergency responders a wide berth on a roadway scene (with the general exception of impaired drivers). Now categorized as distracted drivers, we compete for attention with cell phones, automated vehicles, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, the internet, and more and more drivers on the road every day.

All of those circumstances contribute to an increasingly erratic and chaotic situation on our roadways – like errant missiles, vehicles careen around our scenes, ping-ponging from guardrail to guardrail and threatening emergency responders and apparatus daily.

As of August 22, 2022, 34 responders (12 police officers, 9 tow operators, 8 firefighters/EMS clinicians and 5 DOT/road service technicians) have been killed during 2022 while operating on roadways around the United States. While a collaboration between the IAFC, National Near Miss and the Emergency Responder Safety Institute will track injuries and near misses, there is currently no reliable data to support the number of responder injuries and near misses on top of those fatalities.

GET THERE, GET DONE AND GET OUT

As roadway distractions and the number of struck-by incidents have increased, we need to focus just as much on getting off the roadway as we do getting there and getting the job done.

It is not uncommon to hear the refrain and see the hashtag “shut-it-down” with respect to roadway incidents, and I’m all in – when the time is right. Let’s be honest though, shutting the entire road down is not always the answer.

Every one of the temporary traffic management activities and blocking with apparatus strategies is important, however limiting our time on target is the surest way to get out of harm’s way. Conceptually, we can learn from the time-distance-shielding teaching for radioactive incidents;

  1. Limit your time on target
  2. Distance yourself from the target (i.e., traffic)
  3. Shield yourself (i.e., firetrucks, blocking vehicles, notifications)

When you consider each of these strategies, they each have related traffic management activities that come with them; early sign/cone notification, blocking vehicles, spotters and lighting that create “safe-zones” in which we can operate.

I fully recognize it’s not a perfect world created amidst the chaos of an interstate or mountain road scene, however the days of demanding the traffic pay attention to us are long gone.

HIGH FREQUENCY, HIGH RISK

Success in strategic battles is rarely happenstance, and in large part will depend on your preparations prior to the “battle.” Whether an offensive or defensive exercise, we need to find ways to include traffic incident management training into our regular and routine repertoire of training. Setting an effective battle rhythm starts with taking care of yourself, being a student of the craft and practicing the craft daily, whether that’s traffic incident management, airway management or rapid intervention.

Roadway incidents in 2022 demand that we give just as much, if not more, attention to them as we do the most basic of EMS operations. Let’s remember, we’re not just talking about vehicle wrecks – we’re talking about any incident (wreck, fire, hazmat, law enforcement event, etc.) occurring on the roadway that requires we commit resources to a roadway environment.

Roadway incidents have become high frequency, high risk environments – environments that we can influence, but that we absolutely don’t control. Let’s make sure we’re including traffic incident management training as part of the recipe for success and safety.

About the author

Chief Marc Bashoor is the FireRescue1 executive editor. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia.

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