Apparatus Scene Safety for Emergency Roadway Incidents

(1) Regular traffic cones stack high. In an apparatus compartment, they take up a lot of room. (Photo by author.)
(1) Regular traffic cones stack high. In an apparatus compartment, they take up a lot of room. (Photo by author.)
(2) The Burleson (TX) Fire Department switched over to Packacone. The Pro Series extend to 20 inches, 30 inches, and 36 inches. All cones collapse down to two inches and come with two six-inch reflective collars. (Photo by author.)
(2) The Burleson (TX) Fire Department switched over to Packacone. The Pro Series extend to 20 inches, 30 inches, and 36 inches. All cones collapse down to two inches and come with two six-inch reflective collars. (Photo by author.)
(3) Eight collapsed Packacones are stacked like dinner plates, allowing for a larger inventory of cones or other equipment. (Photo by author.)
(3) Eight collapsed Packacones are stacked like dinner plates, allowing for a larger inventory of cones or other equipment. (Photo by author.)
(4) SCENEalert makes this 50-foot section of hose highly visible during daylight hours. The hose should be used in conjunction with traffic cones. (Photo courtesy of SCENEdots.)
(4) SCENEalert makes this 50-foot section of hose highly visible during daylight hours. The hose should be used in conjunction with traffic cones. (Photo courtesy of SCENEdots.)
5) Sections of hose equipped with SCENEalert panels can be rolled and stored like regular sections of fire hose without taking up more space. Multiple sections of SCENEalert hose can be easily stored on every type of fire apparatus. (Photo courtesy of SCENEdots.)
(5) Sections of hose equipped with SCENEalert panels can be rolled and stored like regular sections of fire hose without taking up more space. Multiple sections of SCENEalert hose can be easily stored on every type of fire apparatus. (Photo courtesy of SCENEdots.)
Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2

Safety doesn’t come naturally to firefighters. It’s against our nature. Firefighters tend to run toward danger and take extreme risks because it validates our bravery. Sometimes those risks are necessary when a life is truly at stake, but most times they are not. Most times the only life at stake is the firefighter’s. With more and more safety rules added to the books, I believe the first response of many firefighters is to resist rather than embrace these new rules. It usually means something else we cannot do anymore. As Americans, we cherish our freedoms. Rules and regulations tend to inhibit or restrict freedom; so we resist. Unless firefighters see the need for the new safety rules, they tend to roll their eyes and accuse the administration of having nothing better to do than to make up more rules preventing them from doing their jobs. After a while, the litany of safety rules and regulations becomes like the tax code: There are so many, no one can keep track of them anymore.

Unfortunately, many new safety rules are incident-driven. Something bad happened. Someone got hurt or killed, hence a new safety rule. But, we have a job that always ranks in the top 10 most dangerous jobs. So, like it or not, we have to be diligent at being safe. The culture won’t change any other way. And, do you know what? After 33 years in the fire service, it feels good to be safe! There’s a very satisfying feeling of seasoned experience and professionalism when you can successfully accomplish the objective and bring your crew back to quarters safe.

Incident Scene Safety

Enough commentary! Let’s look at keeping firefighters safe by positioning the fire apparatus for scene safety at emergency roadway incidents: motor vehicle accidents (MVA), rescues, and vehicle fires. According the United States Fire Administration (USFA)/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) document “Traffic Incident Management System, April 2008” (a must-read document for all firefighters), firefighters being struck and killed by oncoming vehicles accounted for 52 line-of-duty deaths (LODDs) between 1996 and 2006. During my career with the Seattle (WA) Fire Department, I’ve had three colleagues struck by vehicles while operating at emergency scenes. The most recent incident was in September 2011 when an oncoming vehicle struck Engine 6’s driver while he was backing an ambulance out onto the street. Because of a blinding sunset, the civilian driver never saw the firefighter, who was seriously injured. Thankfully, he is expected to return to work before the end of the year.

Secondary Incidents

The primary reason firefighters are in the roadway and exposed to oncoming traffic is that they’re operating at an incident that already occurred. Careless or inattentive drivers are the wild card. They can be frustrated with traffic, in a hurry, rubber-necking, or impaired. A Department of Transportation (DOT) report indicates that approximately 18 percent of all traffic fatalities nationwide occur as a result of secondary incidents. This secondary collision is often more serious than the first one, especially if it occurs between free-flowing and stopped traffic. To reduce and prevent the frequency of firefighters being struck by civilian vehicles while operating at emergency roadway incidents, it’s important to understand some of the common causes that lead to these secondary incidents.

This list is extensive, but here are the five I feel are most important:

1. Reduced vision and driving conditions: heavy rain, ice, snow, fog, curves, and summits.

2. Lack of situational awareness: Firefighters fail to recognize the dangers associated with emergency roadway incidents because of insufficient training and lack of experience. I remember having a rookie on my crew at an incident on Interstate 5. As the incident concluded, I told him to pick up the traffic cones. Attempting to demonstrate his quick response to orders, he ran down to the farthest cone and quickly bent down to pick it up. He never noticed the semi truck that missed his head by about a foot. We all cringed, expecting the worst.

3. Failure to use high-visibility apparel: I purchased my own traffic safety vest before the department issued them. Being on a company that had Interstate 5 in its first alarm district, I saw the value in purchasing and wearing a top-of-the-line safety vest. I still see firefighters who opt to wear bunker coats on roadside EMS calls. The reflective striping is minimal protection compared to the vests. That means the company officer has to be attentive to the safety of the crew fighting the vehicle fire while watching for oncoming traffic.

4. Improper apparatus positioning: Numerous cases cite issues with apparatus not positioned to properly block the scene and protect the crew. In some cases, the apparatus position didn’t offer any protection for emergency personnel.

5. Failure to establish a temporary traffic control (TTC) zone: Many fire departments don’t have sufficient training, equipment, or SOPs for correctly setting a properly marked TTC zone or, if they have them, fail to follow them.

As important as safety is, it still needs to be balanced with budgets and logistics. Safety equipment costs money. Once acquired, it must be stored. Apparatus compartment space is at a premium. Every space is packed with equipment we might need to do our jobs. Sooner or later something has to give. There are a couple of intelligent and innovative products on the market that are worth considering.

Packacone

Some of the most important safety tools we carry on the rig for scene safety are traffic cones. The more cones the better, but the typical way we carry them—stacked—takes up a lot of compartment space.

The traffic cones available for scene safety may be determined by how many can actually fit in a compartment. Packacone, Markham, Ontario, Canada, came up with the idea of collapsible full-size traffic cones. The Pro series has three expandable sizes of 20, 30, and 36 inches. All the cones collapse to two inches for convenient storage. They stack like dinner plates, allowing for a larger inventory of traffic cones or freeing up compartment space for extra equipment. The cones weigh 3.6 pounds for the 20-inch, eight pounds for the 30-inch, and 10 pounds for the 36-inch size. They have solid rubber bases that grip the road surface and resist wind.

The cones are made of nylon oxford for all weather conditions. If a car accidentally runs over the cone, the cone bends and then snaps to its full upright position. Each cone has two six-inch reflective collars, providing 360-degree visibility. An optional lighting system illuminates the cone at night. The four LEDs are powered by two AAA batteries and provide 500 candlepower cd/lux/m² for nighttime visibility up to 1,000 feet.

SCENEalert

In a previous issue, I wrote about other uses for fire hose. Here is the best idea I’ve seen yet. SCENEalert, from SCENEdots, is a kit that converts a new or used 50-foot section of 2½- or three-inch fire hose into a visual life safety traffic warning device. It’s used in conjunction with traffic cones to create a highly reflective visual barrier dividing the highway from the emergency scene day or night. Unlike widely spaced traffic cones, it clearly establishes a reflective delineation line for oncoming traffic as well as a visual reminder for on-scene firefighters of the TTC zones location. The SCENEalert is unrolled in a safe area away from oncoming traffic, then dragged into position to establish the TTC zone. When the incident concludes, firefighters drag the SCENEalert hose back to the safe area, where they can roll it up like traditional fire hose and store it on the apparatus.

The SCENEalert kit includes eight dual-sided aluminum reflector panels and stainless steel mounting hardware. Each do-it-yourself kit equips 50 feet of fire hose.

Drill: Setting Up a TTC Zone

Although many fire departments do not have an SOP for creating a TTC zone, other fire departments have given a lot of thought to designing a configuration and evolution, making the emergency roadside incident scene safer for firefighters, police, and ambulance crews. Here’s the one we use in Seattle.

The step-by-step process varies based on your department’s apparatus fleet and response resources, as well as crew staffing. Some volunteer fire departments can arrive on scene with very few personnel and have to make the best of it until more help arrives. The goal is to end up with the configuration illustrated. Take a weekend and find a large empty business parking lot to practice the most efficient way to set up this TTC zone. It’s best with two fire apparatus, but it can also be accomplished with one apparatus and police vehicles. Involve your local and state police for ideas and support resources. It helps if the state police know what to expect from the fire department because they avoid completely shutting down interstate highways if at all possible.

Running the Drill

The first engine establishes the initial TTC zone by blocking the affected lane(s) plus one additional lane. Park the rig at a 45-degree angle with wheels turned away from the incident. While the officer takes command and crew members initiate patient care, the driver sets out the traffic cones. Arrange cones as shown in Figure 1.

The second apparatus parks approximately 200 feet away from the first engine. Position the apparatus at a 45-degree angle with the wheels turned away from the scene. Unless the crew is immediately needed for patient care or rescue, the entire crew should quickly finish setting up the complete TTC zone so it resembles Figure 2. This needs to be done quickly before assisting the first engine crew.

The objective is to establish the TTC zone as quickly as possible. Once the crews establish the TTC zone, they have done everything reasonably possible using the equipment at hand to provide the maximum safety protection for them. Apparatus drivers play a critical role in securing the initial scene by properly spotting the apparatus to block the scene. They may not get a second chance. If they overshoot the scene, they may have to back up, which can be extremely hazardous in heavy traffic. It endangers crew members who have to get out and block traffic to back the rig up.

This is primarily a drivers’ evolution. They need to be creative. If they run out of cones, they may have to finish the TTC configuration using flares or triangles off of ambulances and police cars. State police usually carry a large inventory of road flares in the trunk of their cruisers. Don’t hesitate to use them.

Make TTC Zones the Norm

Of the 52 LODDs during the decade cited above, seven firefighters were struck and killed in secondary incidents in 2000 and another seven firefighters were struck and killed in 2002. One is too many, but 14 in two years is hard to take. These sobering statistics should motivate us to practice setting up TTC zones and treat them like we would a collapse zone. And that Seattle firefighter who was struck and injured by the civilian vehicle? That secondary incident didn’t happen on a major interstate—it happened on a regular city street.


RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

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