TIM Training and You

By T.J. Nedrow

What can one say in a few paragraphs regarding roadway incident responder safety and training that hasn’t been said already? Very little. Even the newest recruit can grasp the consequences of the lack of safety and operations training. A moment of lapsed judgement and awareness can be monumental and tragic. If you chose to skip this article, then please read the next sentence first. If you have not completed traffic incident management (TIM) training, or taken a refresher, do so! The life you save may be your own.

Being worth your salt, I hope you value what training can provide and the sage advice that instructors offer. The primary rule of the fire service is Safety First. Hence the first lesson of my career in the fire service was that it’s all about safety. As a probie, we learned and took stock in mistakes made. One can say this is still true today.

One can never substitute personal experience and safety. I was honored to be selected by my employer, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), to work as what was deemed an incident rover when Tacoma hosted the 1992 Goodwill Games on a portion of busy I-5. The urban freeway was well-travelled with congested areas ripe for frequent collisions day in and day out. At the time there was no TIM training, no book on right from wrong and still go home safe. Now, after spending two decades with WSDOT in highway construction, as well as four decades as a volunteer firefighter, officer, and TIM instructor, I can see that roadway incident operations were and are not going to improve without further interventions. I, like many of my peers, have seen way too many close calls and worse on our travelled ways.

Labeled as a SME with TIM, roadway design, and safety, I am often asked, “Why do I need TIM training?” For the reason we’ve all heard and dozens more. However, my short answer is, “Why not?” Today the reasons are near endless with the data/statistics compiled now.

From TIM’s infancy over 30 years ago I can site case after case where roadway incident training becomes a priority once you or your department becomes an incident statistic. If you’re fortunate and don’t have a fatality, the wake-up call is astounding.

I believe we can all agree that firefighters are inherently hungry to learn. So, be hungry, learn, and feed your need to rise above the notion that good enough is good enough! Do learn and train using the abundantly available tools and professionals willing to teach. Every state has available training. Be a change manager – one that chooses to change the status quo on training for all your fellow firefighters. Contact your State TIM Training Contact, or check out the Responder Safety Learning Network site for more info on training.

Once you have absorbed the info, I challenge you to enlighten others; i.e., when you hear complaints of traffic incidents and collisions involving poor judgement and blame, it’s your opportunity to offer education of the D drivers we face. The “D” drivers were originally identified as three but continue to climb. Today, the expanded list includes: Drunk, Drugged, Drowsy, Distracted, Disgruntled, Disturbed, Disrespectful, Drag Racers, and Driverless. My point is, the odds are against you and your team when out on a roadway incident exposed to numerous D’s. We can’t afford to lower our guard whatsoever.

Sadly, in the first nine months of 2022, we lost 38 responders on U.S. roadways engaged in roadway traffic activities. Eight were firefighters/EMS responders, and the remainder were in law enforcement, towing, service patrols, and service technicians. While training and education is making a reduction from the 65 lost in 2021, there is much more we can do.

For a moment let’s consider all the technology and more on the way.

Digital alerting technologies, improved lighting, better communications, and crash vehicle avoidance are but a few that improve operations that are available or on the horizon. New technologies provide tools that better prepare, respond, and react. Do research to determine what best works for you, your department, and your area. Reach out to partners you work with. Build a relationship with law enforcement, transportation staff, towers. They truly have much insight to offer and remember, they have your back as you do theirs.

Worthy of a shout out and acknowledgement is the Emergency Responder Safety Institute’s nationwide database that collects detailed information about incidents on the roadway where emergency responders or their equipment were struck by a vehicle while operating at a scene. It’s a team effort; report a struck-by incident to ReportStruckBy.com.

Think for a moment, what stock do you put into your department’s best practices? The tried-and-true methods of operations that create efficiencies and increase safety include:

  1. Communications: Ensure you communicate what you have, what you need, and what your operation is.
  2. Know your partners: What are their resources, equipment, and limitations. Second guessing is not an option during the incident.
  3. Know your surroundings and topographical challenges: Roadways in their own right are dangerous. Know the external nuances of the roadway section, i.e., key weather anomalies, areas of flooding, fog, and icing conditions that are seasonally prevalent.
  4. Be cognizant of your limitations: Good incident commanders know when to increase span and control with necessary resources. Some of my greatest successes incorporated the expertise of others with their valuable knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  5. Your health: Bad call, lasting negativity? Be honest and lean on HELP available. I recommend Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance and the NVFC First Responder Helpline.
  6. Lastly, when you are in the roadway, always, always keep your head on a swivel!

Above all, be safe, stay safe, and everyone goes home.

T.J. Nedrow is a retired volunteer fire officer of Lacey (WA) Fire District 3. With over 40 years served collectively in volunteer and combination fire departments he has a storied service record: founding chairman of the Washington TIM Coalition, WSFFA president emeritus, 20 years serving as a Washington director to the National Volunteer Fire Council. In addition, he is a SHRP II TIM instructor, NFPA 1091 committee secretary, Responder Safety Institute Leadership Group member, all with great desire to add value to traffic incident management policy, training, and outreach. Connect via email at nedrowfire@gmail.com.