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Raising awareness: First responder injuries, LODDs caused by vehicles

07 May 2019 11:07 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

By Lieutenant Joseph “Paul” Manley, IPSA Board Member, IPSA Memorial Committee Vice-Chair

Ensuring that first responders return home safely at the end of each shift is a paramount concern for all public safety leaders. The IPSA is committed to honoring fallen first responders while also raising awareness about line-of-duty deaths. As of April 30, 2019, the IPSA reported 67 first responder fatalities and nearly one-third of them were vehicle related.  

Surviving a vehicle

On Saturday, April 13, 2019, a Georgia firefighter was struck by a vehicle while directing traffic in a school zone. On Saturday, 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 Saturday 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 Monday, 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.

These are just a handful examples of first responders being struck by vehicles reported in 2019. Fortunately, all survived. However, in such incidents, fatalities are common. According to the National Fire Protection Association and Officer Down Memorial Page 8, police officers and 11 firefighters died after being struck by passing vehicles in 2018.

“Move Over” laws

In response to increasing roadside fatalities in the line of duty, the United States and Canada have passed “Move Over” laws which 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 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
In order 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 one of the links in this chain fails, the likelihood of unnecessary injuries or deaths increases. While the service that each provide are obviously 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 back-up, 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, small children, teenage drivers and the elderly.
  2. Always wear a seatbelt. Empirical research shows that wearing a seatbelt 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, in order 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 on this review must be to identify the circumstances and causes surrounding these incidents.
  4. Improve incident scene safety. Below is a list of items that all agencies can adopt to improve scene safety.
  • Staging an emergency vehicle with warning devices activated up 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 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 seatbelts.  Operating at the scene of an emergency, placing your vehicle strategically to maximize accessibility, utilization, safety and egress is extremely important in making an operation run smoothly. 

About the Author

Lt. Manley is a 30+ year law enforcement professional and adjunct faculty member at North Shore Community College, Danvers, MA.  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 a Board Member of the IPSA and Vice Chair its Memorial Committee.

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