Here we are in January, a time when New Year's resolutions are being kept - or broken. If your department has made a resolution to protect firefighters from roadway hazards, and intends to keep it, here are a few things to help achieve that goal.
The first item to consider is the new federal standard on high visibility vests 23 CFR Part 634 which went into effect Nov. 24. In case someone has missed it, it requires personnel who are not involved in suppression activities to wear high-visibility safety apparel when operating on a federal-aided roadway.
After much lobbying by the fire service, on Nov. 21 the Federal Highway Administration issued an interim final rule revising the Worker Visibility rule (23CFR 634) to create an exemption for the firefighting community. It allows firefighters and other emergency responders working within the right-of-way of a federal-aided highway and engaged in emergency operations that directly expose them to flame, fire, heat, and/or hazardous materials to wear retro reflective turnout gear that is specified and regulated by other organizations, such as the National Fire Protection Association. That means they don't have to wear extra apparel to be in compliance.
The interim final rule went into effect on Nov. 24, and for those interested, it can be accessed at the following link: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-27671.pdf.
The short version of this can be summed up as follows - emergency workers directly involved in source of heat, chemical, or technical rescue activities as listed above who complete their activities within the designated hot zone are required to don ANSI-compliant vests once their activities within the hot zone are completed or they leave the immediate hot zone area of the incident.
SOGs For Vests
If you need more information on the standard, or training materials on the subject, go to the Emergency Responders Safety Institute's Web site, www.respondersafety.com. While on vests, it's a good idea to consider a standard operating guideline (SOG) for the use and wearing of high-visibility apparel. Again, go to respondersafety.com for your needs as there are several examples of vest SOGs for you to use.
Some other items designed to help protect you and your crew that are coming on board this year are changes to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 affecting fire apparatus, which took effect on Jan. 1.
One item in the standard is all new apparatus must carry a minimum of five Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) approved traffic cones. You may not believe it, but there is a standard for traffic cones. They must be 28 to 36 inches high, red/orange in color, and have two reflective bands, one four inches and one six inches. The MUTCD manual can be found on the Federal Highway Administration's Web site.
A lot of departments these days are placing a heavy emphasis on roadway scene safety and control.
One way to do this is to place a traffic control or safety unit in service. Departments are using everything from old ambulances, utility trucks, cruisers, pickup trucks, stock vehicles and customized units made by apparatus builders.
The New Kingston (Pa.) Fire Company recently purchased a custom traffic unit built by E-ONE. It features a generator, light tower, tons of storage and a command area on a commercial chassis and provides everything in a large, self-contained package. This unit was well thought out and designed to help the department protect its people.
New Kingston firefighters protect sections of Interstate 81, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and PA Route 11 in very busy corridor. They are also responsible for providing protection for several special annual events that bring in thousands of vehicles and visitors.
The Gettysburg (Pa.) Fire Department is placing into service a smaller new traffic unit on a Ford F350 extended cab chassis with a Reading Truck Body utility body. This vehicle includes an area for traffic cone storage on a pull out tray, a vehicle-mounted generator and a directional arrow board.
In both New Kingston and Gettysburg, the new rigs replace converted ambulances. Even though the old ambulances had limited capabilities, they served as good starting points for providing highway protection service.
Pennsburg (Pa.) Fire Department officials chose to purchase a small, four-door demo rescue vehicle they felt would meet their needs. This plan allowed the department to purchase a lot of vehicles at a good price with some minor modifications to meet their needs.
Any vehicle will do if properly equipped. When considering a traffic control vehicle, departments should look at including a large arrow board or even a vehicle-mounted variable message sign (VMS) board.
It might be a good idea to include some portable lighting and small generators to illuminate traffic control points. Light towers are also good for this, but are tied to the vehicle.
Some agencies are equipping traffic control vehicles with a repeater radio system for communications with traffic control points.
Make sure the vehicle is well marked with reflective stripping to increase its visibility. As for chassis and size, take a look at your needs, staffing levels, terrain, type of response and what the vehicle is designed to do.
It will be important to consider whether it will just be a means to transport equipment or a command and coordination point. In all cases make sure the vehicle has ample storage, scene lighting and emergency lighting.
The idea of the extended cab is a good idea as it can be used to store some initial deployment items such as cones and accident ahead scene signs. That way they'll be close at hand when you arrive.
Take a good look to see if your department could use one of these vehicles just not for emergencies, but for special events support and other types of responses to help keep our folks safe.
As always be safe and return to quarters.
Editor's Note: Allen Baldwin is the manager of operations and incident response for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and a volunteer assistant chief with the Gettysburg (Pa.) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter and EMT for over 25 years, served as chief of the Chambersburg (Pa.) Fire Department and is an instructor with the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and several community colleges.