Rurally Speaking: A Cry for Technological Help

By Carl J. Haddon

Although this column is titled Rurally Speaking, this is a topic that applies to all of us who respond to vehicle accidents, be it on rural highways or on the busiest of metropolitan freeways. It seems that not a week goes by without my email lighting up with news of another fallen firefighter, emergency medical technician, towing technician, or law enforcement officer who was mowed down while operating at the scene of an accident.

I was optimistic several years ago as I attended the National Fire Academy’s inaugural Train the Trainer program for the Traffic Incident Management Program (TIMS). I thought this could be the answer to help reduce the number of responders killed at accident scenes. After all, it’s a free training program that’s available to everyone. You can even take this class online now. Unfortunately, the “D Drivers” (Drunk, Drugged, Drowsy, or just plain DUMB) didn’t get the memo about our program.

We have the time-honored, and much-debated, topics of “illuminescents” or reflective materials that we’ve used on the colored chevrons that used to adorn our fire helmets and the backs of our fire apparatus and ambulances. Additionally, we have the much-debated topic of our brightly colored safety traffic vests and the number of square inches of approved reflective material that we must have on our bunker gear.

Much has also been written, studied, and researched about emergency vehicle lighting. We’ve gone from (I’m going to date myself here) spinning incandescent “Bubble Gum” machine lights to today’s high-tech LED lighting. We’ve also discussed how some of this lighting may be drawing the “D Drivers” INTO the lights like moths to a flame.

With all of this technology and attempts to train the masses to keep them safer, it doesn’t stop those very grim weekly notifications of our brothers and sisters who didn’t make it home from the vehicle accident call that ended their lives.

Many of you know my involvement in the New Vehicle Technology rescue challenges and the work that some of us are doing with automobile makers to help enable us to be more successful, faster, and safer during extrication operations. Today’s new vehicles communicate with their drivers, they can communicate with each other, and they can communicate via Bluetooth and the cloud. New cars can be started, and interior creature features can be activated through your smart phone. With all this technology that goes into making new cars, isn’t there something that can be developed that can keep a D Driver from running through an accident scene and wiping us out while we work? I fully understand that there is nothing that can be done about wicked icy or snowy weather incidents where vehicles start sliding all over the place on the highway and bouncing off each other. But, just maybe there’s some of this automotive technology that allows these vehicles to send a signal to oncoming traffic that all hell has just broken loose some distance ahead and signal them to slow down or slow the car down for them?

This truly is a call for help. Fire apparatus, ambulances, and any other emergency vehicle should be able to be equipped with some device or technology that disables or deters (like lane-keeping assist technology that presently exists) vehicles headed into a working crash site. I’m going to go out on a limb because I’m not a cop (insert 1 of a thousand jokes here), but imagine if law enforcement had the ability to avoid high-speed or low-speed dangerous car chases by simply using technology to disable the fleeing vehicle to avoid such chases. Even some technology that could allow law enforcement to pick a safe or safer place to disable a fleeing suspect vehicle seems possible. Imagine if towing companies and fire departments had the ability to flip a switch in their trucks that electronically forced oncoming vehicles to slow down and move over.

In my training classes, I often make references to living in the transportation world of “The Jetsons” cartoon (Google it). Fortunately, or unfortunately, it’s the truth! We live in the world of self-driving cars and trucks. We live in a world today where Road Trains are operational on roadways around the world. Our vehicles can now read road signs for heaven’s sake! For our sake, there has to be someone out there with the know how to implement or tweak some of this technology to help us operate more safely at accident scenes regardless of whether those wrecks occur here in the rural Rocky Mountains or in the heart of New York, New York. The number of available volunteer firefighters and EMS folks is dwindling at an alarming rate to begin with. We don’t need any more help at reducing our numbers.

CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He served as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.A

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