Safety Guide for Firefights: Safety at Highway Incidents

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Fire departments all over the world need to prepare and train their Emergency Response Team or EMT, paramedics, and firefighters for emergency responses to any incidents, whether on highways like limited access or high-speed roads and other roadways in their corresponding area.

Vehicle fires, car crashes, bush fires, medical emergencies, natural disasters, and hazardous material leaks and/or leaks are an example of emergency calls that put the first responders like firefighters, Emergency Response Team and Paramedics at risk of being struck by cars while operating in moving traffic.

Before these first responders are dispatched to the scene, the department needs to be prepared for all road incident responses. Fire departments all over the world need to have a procedure, guideline, or policy document in place that helps provides personnel with objectives and goals, as well as tactics and strategies for all types of highway incidents (or accidents).

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These documents need to be the basis of highway incident safety training for every person in the department. The training needs to happen during recruit school or during department indoctrination training before new personnel respond to highway incidents. In-service training needs to be done at least once a year to help review road incident response policy and discuss recent highway incidents.

Fire department leadership needs to be involved with the regional TIM or Traffic Incident Management committees that include every agency that works with highway incidents in your place including the law enforcement agencies, rescue, and emergency medical team, mutual aid fire, 911 dispatchers and call-callers, transportation, as well as recovery and towing operators.

The Traffic Incident Management committees need to be working on highway incident plans, as well as multi-agency practice and training exercises for any types of highway incidents so that every agency will have a coordinated response, as well as interagency communications, are smooth and precise.

Here are some practical and simple tips when it comes to responding to highway incidents

Dispatch the needed apparatus – Make sure that response protocols are established ahead of time, as well as what kinds of equipment will be used in highway incidents. A lot of fire departments send their units to address these emergencies as well as dispatch additional units to act as an advance warning or a safety blocking party.

Some departments, based on their training page, send units in opposite directions on divided highways where the headquarters have not yet confirmed the location of the incident.

On-scene positioning like safe positioning and blocking – Emergency response units should be trained on the right positioning of fire equipment at the incident scene. This equipment needs to be parked on the angle of the incident that involves multiple lanes, and the operator and/or driver, as well as the company officer, should work together to decide where the first respondents will park and what angle – whether block the left or block the right.

Make sure to protect the person operating the pumps at the fire scene – The first responders should provide instructions for the incoming teams on how or where to position sot that the scene is managed correctly from the very start.

On-scene size-up reports – The first officer on the scene should provide size-up reports that will confirm the kind of incident, the location of the incident, any hazards on the scene like hazardous materials, wires down, extreme weather conditions like icy road surface or fog and indicate the lanes that are affected by the incident or the scene block.

The conditions that are observed upon arrival suggest the need for additional resources or agencies (safety service patrols, emergency response services, rescue units, or law enforcers) to respond to the request and confirm the agencies’ response. Dispatchers should relay the right information to the regional traffic operation center, as well as to other responding units.

Scene safety – Make sure that emergency lights are appropriately set up to ensure safety of the scene. Turn off the forward-facing white light if they are needed for the operation (example: flashing white warning lights or headlights). For more modern apparatus, it might happen automatically when the responding unit is put in park mode, but for older equipment, operators need to control the emergency lights manually.

Activate the directional traffic arrows of the device. Be sure that the floodlights are appropriately set up to help illuminate the area while preventing the creation of glare hazards for passing motorists in the area.

TTC or Temporary Traffic Controls – Follow the agency protocols for deploying traffic cones and flares, in the opposite direction of the unit. Communicate commands to other units that are responding to the incident about deploying different kinds of advance-warning devices or have dispatch relay to all law enforcers, transportation units, or safety service patrols responding to the scene about the types of temporary traffic controls that are needed.

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Be specific on which side of the road is blocked or if lanes are blocked, and a detour is required. Update every unit and dispatch regularly throughout the incident on any changes in traffic conditions due to lanes being blocked or lanes being opened after the operation is complete.

Safety of every respondent – Make sure that every personnel is wearing the right Personal Protective Equipment for the conditions upon arrival – National Fire Protection Association-compliant gear for fire-related incidents or high-visibility gears if they are not exposed to heat, fire, hazardous materials or flame.

Remind every personnel on-site should be wearing the approved headgear to be more visible on the scene, even at night. If staffing permits, safety officers should be present to monitor the scene safety measures, as well as coordinate with other emergency responding agencies on temporary traffic control and the right positioning of the arriving units.

Establish incident or unified command – Use protocols from the proper agencies for the unified or incident command if multiple agencies or jurisdictions will be involved. You have to ensure that every agency on the scene is properly working with the same IAP or Incident Action Plan. The command center should be appropriately indicated, and the IC should be identifiable.