S.C. responders train for safer crash scenes

According to the S.C. Department of Transportation, “secondary crashes account for 30 percent of the crashes and 18 percent of those end up being fatal”

By Tonya Root
The Sun News 

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — For every minute a roadway is blocked for a vehicle crash, it takes four minutes to clear the stalled traffic backed up because of the crash, said Brian Purvis, a consultant working with the S.C. Department of Transportation to manage traffic.

On Thursday local fire, rescue, police, EMS, tow truck drivers and other emergency responders gathered at the M.L. Brown Building for free training on traffic management during crashes.

The six-hour course involved anyone who deals with traffic crashes in the Myrtle Beach area to increase awareness about the safety of emergency responders and the motorists, said Mike Bowman, DOT incident response management coordinator.

Another longer training session will occur next year where participants will learn how to teach crash management to their colleagues at area fire and rescue departments, tow truck companies, police departments and other transportation agencies, he said.

Thursday was the seventh traffic workshop officials have hosted across the state, which included other major cities such as Columbia, Greenville, Charleston, Rock Hill and Spartanburg.

More than 1,200 people across the state have traffic incident training and more than 200 have went through seminars like Thursday’s, Bowman said.

“DOT is being proactive in incident management,” Bowman said.

Having trained responders can keep traffic moving, which is important in the Myrtle Beach area where on any given day along U.S. 501 there can be 70,000 vehicles pass near S.C. 31, according to DOT traffic counts.

The training was aimed at helping promote safety for those responding to traffic incidents and safety for the motorists stuck in them, as well as teaching responders how to quickly clear the incident and get traffic moving again, Purvis said. The training goal is to reach every first-responder in the state.

“It’s bringing everybody together to more efficiently manage scenes,” Purvis said. “The scene goes to the last person in traffic plus the one coming up behind them.”

Tow truck drivers were included also because the speed of their response to remove vehicles, and their safety while doing so also is important Purvis said.

Annually, about 60 tow truck drivers in the U.S. are killed while at the scene of a vehicle crash, Bowman said, noting South Carolina’s Move Over Law, which dictates motorists should move to the shoulder to allow for police, fire and tow truck drivers with flashing lights.

“Red lights and amber flashing lights are no less important than blue lights,” Bowman said and noted that included the state’s SHEP vehicles, which respond to dozens of crashes in the Myrtle Beach area.

“They can move a vehicle out of the road to prevent a secondary collision if deemed necessary,” Bowman said of the blue SHEP trucks.

Moving crashed vehicles from the road and allowing traffic to resume would help reduce secondary crashes that occur when traffic slows or stops for a crash.

“Secondary crashes account for 30 percent of the crashes and 18 percent of those end up being fatal,” Purvis said. “That’s a huge component, so it’s a balancing act.”

Terrance Brooks, a DOT resident traffic engineer for district 5, has worked in the Myrtle Beach area for more than two years with the SHEP program.

“We’re out there to help the situation and not to hurt it,” Brooks said during a break of Thursday’s training. “It can be anyone out there assisting someone in trouble on the roadway.”

Purvis, who is a national consultant and has worked with transportation departments in North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, said South Carolina does well in traffic management. That management includes traffic counters, cameras, SHEP trucks and other devices such as online alerts from 511.com — also available as a smart phone app.

“This is one of the best states in the nation as far as traffic management,” Purvis said. The training “introduces best practices to keep South Carolina in the forefront of public safety and responder safety.”

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