Protecting Each Other at MVCs on Highways and Roadways

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 00:00 Written by  Super User
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scene safetyFirefighters and medics working at the scene of a motor vehicle crash (MVC) are increasingly being exposed to the risk of becoming the victim of a secondary crash. We regularly see instances where first-responders are killed or seriously injured, or their apparatus destroyed, by the reckless actions of inattentive or distracted drivers. The situation for potential disaster is only exacerbated with more individuals with more technology in their care, traveling over poorly maintained roads and highways in many areas of the country.

One of the most important responsibilities for fire officers and firefighters alike is recognizing and managing risks. Working a MVC in today's world is a high-frequency and high-risk activity. Make sure that you and your people are prepared every day using the following information. Your life and theirs may depend on it.

In a piece published in December 2015, a colleague and fellow author, Steve Whitehead, posed six questions that every firefighter and medic should ask themselves upon arriving at a MVC:

1. Does everyone know the safe operating area?

2. Can I account for every occupant from every vehicle?

3. Are the vehicles secure and stable?

4. Am I between the airbag and the patient?

5. Are there flammable liquids present?

6. Do any quiet patients need attention?

All great questions, and Steve does a great job covering them all. However, in this article we’re going to expand on Question #1. First, let’s get on the same page regarding terminology that will be used in the remainder of this article (And we all know what happens on the emergency scene if we're not speaking the same language, right?). 

Emergency Scene Traffic Management Terms

Advance Warning Area: Notification procedures like warning signs or flaggers that advises the approaching motorists to transition from normal driving to that required by the temporary emergency traffic control measures ahead.

Block: Positioning emergency apparatus on an angle to the lanes of traffic creating a physical barrier between upstream traffic and the work area.

Buffer zone: The distance or space between personnel and vehicles in the protected work zone and moving traffic.

Downstream: The direction that traffic is moving away from the incident scene.

Flagger/Lookout: An emergency responder assigned to monitor approaching traffic and activate an emergency signal if a motorist does not conform to traffic control measures.

Lane assignments: With the direction of traffic, lanes are called left, center and right. If there are more than three lanes, each lane is numbered with Lane 1 being the farthest left.

Shadow: The protected area that is shielded by the block from apparatus.

Taper: Action of merging several lanes of moving traffic to fewer lanes.

Traffic Incident Management Area: The area of roadway — from its upstream to its downstream points — within which crews perform their fire and EMS tasks.

Transition zone: Moves traffic out of its normal path, say from three lanes to only two lanes left.

Upstream: The direction that traffic is traveling from as the vehicles approach the incident scene.

Every MVC, Every Time

There is no such thing as a simple MVC. Regardless of the location--busy highway or roadway or two-lane country road—every MVC requires some degree of traffic management to reduce the risk of a secondary crash involving first responders and their apparatus.

The first incident priority for the incident commander at any MVC is to safely, effectively and efficiently create an appropriate Traffic Incident Management Area (TIMA). Here are several incident management benchmarks to guide and direct those efforts (Terms in bold font refer to the Terminology section above).

#1: Establish a Safety Officer

Initially, the first arriving fire officer will likely have this job as well as the IC job. As soon as possible, however, the IC should delegate this task to another competent responder.

#2: Establish the Block

Use the first available piece of fire apparatus for the block to protect the patients and other responders.

#3: Establish an incident command working relationship with the first on-scene law enforcement officer (LEO).

During my fire service career, me and the local LEO would quickly agree that I would be the IC so long as there were patients to be treated and transported or a fire or hazardous condition to be managed. The LEO would be my Traffic Management Group Supervisor with all other LEOs being assigned to that group.

Once the fire or EMS problems had been addressed, I would transfer command to the Traffic Management Group Supervisor to continue managing the incident during the investigation, vehicle removal and TIMA demobilization.

#4: Create an immediate threat procedure

Establish the advanced warning area and post a flagger/lookout with radio. As part of your incident action plan, establish a "take immediate action" word for the lookout to use over the radio to alert all personnel downstream that an unauthorized motorist is entering the TIMA. Ensure that ALL personnel on location know the “take immediate action” word.

Chose something simple that will capture everyone's attention on scene because there's not going to be a lot of reaction time. One word that immediately comes to mind is "Avalanche." Make sure the lookout transmits the word at least three times so that everyone gets it.

#5: Establish the upstream transition area

Communicate to all personnel what lanes of traffic are being closed to upstream traffic. Assign a parking area for ambulances and ensure that all ambulances on scene are placed within the shadow.

#6: Ensure Safe Zones are established and maintained

Make sure that the shadow and buffer are of sufficient size to protect patients, personnel and apparatus operating in the shadow. Those safe zones should be adequate in size as to isolate any damaged vehicles, roadway debris, patient triage and treatment area, and all patients and operating personnel and their equipment from moving traffic.

Ensure that all patients are loaded into ambulances from within the protected work zone. Be sure that all traffic emitter devices on fire apparatus and ambulances are turned off. Direct operators of fire apparatus and ambulances to turn off all apparatus headlights at night to avoid blinding on-coming drivers.

MVC Scene Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility

Every responder has an important individual role for safe, effective, and efficient operations at a MVC. The IC must be unyielding in their enforcement of these 10 behaviors by all personnel to maintain a safe MVC scene.

  1. Always maintain situational awareness for the high risk of working near moving traffic.
  2. Anticipate that the operators of moving vehicles will do stupid things.
  3. Always look in both directions before you move. Do it twice.
  4. Never turn your back to moving traffic. Ever.
  5. Exit and enter fire apparatus and ambulances—whenever possible—from the protected side, away from oncoming traffic.
  6. Wear the level of protective clothing and equipment commensurate with the potential hazards present including DOT Class II high-visibility safety vests.
  7. Always look before opening doors and stepping out of emergency vehicles.
  8. Be alert when walking around apparatus.
  9. Stay on the protected side of apparatus when possible, stop at the corner of the unit, and always check for moving traffic.
  10. Maintain a reduced profile when moving through any area where a minimum buffer zone exists.

Additional Resources

Emergency Responder Safety Institute. On-line Traffic Management Safety Courses and more. http://www.respondersafety.com/default.aspx

FEMA. United States Fire Administration. Traffic Management Systems. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/fa_330.pdf

For more information on Action Training Systems video resources call 800.755.1440 ext 3 or email

Robert Avsec

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an active instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va.

Read 4392 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 November 2017 11:20
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