Critical TIM Measures to Prevent Secondary Crashes and Struck-by-Vehicle Incidents

By Jack Sullivan CSP, CFPS

Every time you roll out the door in your emergency vehicles or respond to the fire station in your personal vehicle, you’re exposed to numerous traffic hazards from other vehicles and drivers. When you stop and park at an incident scene with your emergency or personal vehicle, you are exposed to even more dangers from other drivers and motor vehicles operating around your incident location.

The threat of a secondary crash or struck-by-vehicle incident from a distracted, drunk, drowsy, drugged, disgruntled, and/or disrespectful driver (collectively also known as a “D” drivers) is a clear and present danger. “D” drivers cause secondary incidents at emergency scenes nationwide on almost a daily basis. It is critical that you and your team prepare and respond with a defensive plan to protect your personnel, the victims you were responding to assist in the first place, and the other motorists operating around you at a roadway incident.

Here is a list of significant actions your fire department should be taking to prevent secondary crashes and line-of-duty injuries or fatalities at emergency scenes:

1. Provide roadway incident safety training to all personnel in your department. All new members should be trained on the hazards of roadway incidents, and ALL members should get annual refresher training (at a minimum!) on local and multi-discipline traffic incident management (TIM) policies and procedures. Departments should also work to meet the new TIM requirements in the latest edition of NFPA 1500.

2. TIM training can be obtained several different ways – instructor-led classroom, instructor-led multi-discipline classroom, online training, and local or regional customized classes. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed a four-hour TIM and Responder Safety program that is available nationwide for free through state-specific trainers. Contact your state department of transportation or state police for information about how to schedule a TIM class in your area. Online training can be found from the Responder Safety Learning Network at http://learning.respondersafety.com. There are about 30 modules available for free on the network right now with more in development. A National TIM certificate can be obtained by successfully completing 10 specific online modules that are easily identified on the web site.

3. Make sure multi-discipline standard operating procedures have been developed ─ and are being followed – for protecting incident scenes, especially within the first few minutes of arrival at a roadway incident. Blocking with large fire apparatus is one way to quickly setup a safe work area for responders dealing with a vehicle fire or crash and possibly injured motorists. Temporary traffic controls using flares, cones, advance warning signs, and emergency vehicles are especially important and effective. Those controls need to be deployed correctly to warn oncoming traffic of an incident ahead and to focus their attention on TIM channelizing devices established around the incident.

4. Make sure all of your personnel have been issued proper personal protective gear including high-visibility garments for use when exposed to moving traffic. Any new hi-viz gear purchased by your fire department should be compliant with American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel and Accessories (ANSI/ISEA 107-2015). Older ANSI-compliant high visibility gear can continue to be used as long as it stays clean and offers appropriate florescent and reflective features.

5. Make sure your driver/operators know how to properly display emergency warning lights and any traffic control arrow devices on fire apparatus at emergency scenes. Avoid any forward facing white lights while parked that might cause glare issues for oncoming motorists. Rear facing emergency lights should warn approaching motorists of your location at an incident and if possible help route them around your incident work area. Bright LED emergency lights can cause confusion and temporary vision impairment for motorists, especially in dark conditions, if not managed properly.

There were 15 firefighters and/or emergency medical personnel struck and killed by vehicles in 2017. Three of those personnel stopped to help others in trouble along highways while off-duty. The other 12 incidents were line-of-duty deaths. Firefighters and EMTs are in danger of being struck by vehicles at incident scenes on any kind of roadway, in all kinds of weather conditions, and at any time of day. That means your personnel have to be thinking about and implementing roadway incident safety procedures every time they roll out the door.

Find more traffic incident management resources and training here. This article is reprinted from the NVFC’s Firefighter Strong newsletter.

Jack Sullivan, CSP, CFPS, is the director of training for the Emergency Responder Safety Institute. He is nationally recognized for his work on roadway incident safety for emergency responders, is a principal member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Traffic Control Incident Management Professional Qualifications (NFPA 1091), and is an instructor for the Federal Highway, SHRP 2 Traffic Incident Management & Responder Safety Train-the-Trainer program.