Pa. fire chief calls for more motorist vigilance after several close calls

In one incident, a fire captain's helmet was knocked out of his arm by a vehicle that nearly hit him


Christine Lee
Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.

POTTSVILLE, Pa. — The city's fire chief wants motorists to be more aware of traffic detours set up around accident and fire scenes.

James E. Misstishin Sr. said there have been six incidents since June and in most cases drivers didn't wait for first responders to set up detours or for the responders to direct them through the detour.

Pottsville Fire Chief James E. Misstishin Sr. is calling for more vigilance by motorists at emergency scenes after several close calls over the past few months.
Pottsville Fire Chief James E. Misstishin Sr. is calling for more vigilance by motorists at emergency scenes after several close calls over the past few months. (Photo/Yorkville Hose Fire-Rescue, Pottsville Fire Department)

He said the frequency of such situations is increasing despite first responders wearing safety vests and the city streets department placing road closure signs.

"Traffic control is tough," he said. "People want to go from Point A to Point B and don't care if there is a firetruck in front of them."

In one incident last month, the captain of the West End Hose Company got out of a vehicle with his helmet under his arm responding to a call on West Market Street when a vehicle went by and knocked the helmet from his arm.

"Had he taken one more step, he would have gotten hit," Misstishin said.

Most incidents have been near misses with vehicles and firefighters. However, two years ago, a fire police officer was injured by a vehicle while trying to direct traffic at the scene of a structure fire at Peacock and North Centre streets.

The problem isn't limited to Pottsville, Misstishin added, pointing out that a vehicle hit a firetruck acting as a roadblock at an accident on Interstate 81 a few years ago.

The chief said handling traffic on major roads can be difficult. Firefighters try to keep a lane of traffic open when responding to calls on Route 61, but in wake of last month's incident, he directed fire company captains to use firetrucks to block all lanes in both directions to avoid vehicles hitting firefighters.

Misstishin said not only do drivers ignore detours, several times vehicles have run over fire hoses, which causes damage and cuts off the water supply.

He is asking the public to be mindful of volunteer firefighters and other first responders who are detouring traffic, saying there may be a disabled vehicle, a person needing to be extricated, paramedics who are caring for an injured person or tow company personnel trying to remove a vehicle.

Misstishin is asking the public to slow down and be respectful.

"Everyone is trying to do their job," he said. "Heed the warnings and follow the directions of first responders directing traffic."

He reminds the public that emergency responders have families, too.

"The last thing I want is for them not to be able to go home to them," he said.

Councilman Dave Clews, city council's director of public safety, said vehicle interactions with emergency responders is a growing problem, with distractions such as cellphone use, road construction and more vehicles on the road.

As a volunteer firefighter for more than a decade, he said he has had to be cautious and look both ways when responding to calls.

"We have volunteer first responders giving their time to protect their communities," Clews said. "The least we can do is slow down and obey the rules."

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(c)2021 the Republican & Herald (Pottsville, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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