FRANKLIN COUNTY – “I had a first responder tell me that they are scared more of conducting traffic control, than they are of going inside of a burning building,” New Sharon Fire Chief Felicia Bell wrote following an incident a couple weeks ago. “I beg you all, slow down and pay attention!”
On the scene of a reported car fire in New Sharon November 1, first responders experienced close calls while handling traffic control. While clearing the scene a deputy was nearly struck by a car, and that car was nearly struck by two other vehicles who failed to slow down while traveling through the incident scene. Other vehicles passed a stopped school bus with red lights on and stop sign activated. While thankfully no one was injured, these operators made choices that put first responders and others at greater risk.
When responding to any sort of incident that involves the roadway, from a car crash to parking a fire truck on the roadway while addressing a structure fire, first responders have to handle the emergency to which they have been dispatched while ensuring they do not end up in the middle of another incident.
Crash Responder Safety Week was recognized Nov. 14 through Nov. 18. This week, first responders and emergency service personnel across the state of Maine had the same message to share: slow down, move over, pay attention.
Farmington Fire Chief Timothy Hardy said that regardless of the emergency, any time responders are in the roadway they are at risk. It’s something they have to manage every day.
In addition to distracted drivers, they see vehicles speeding through a scene, or trying to get around a closed lane without following directions from traffic control – people are often in a rush and make choices that put first responders at risk.
It’s more than just the state highways, Hardy said. This is an issue on back roads and side streets as well.
Maine State law requires that drivers slow down and move over for emergency vehicles in the roadway. Emergency vehicles include police cruisers, ambulances, fire trucks, tow trucks, wreckers, and highway safety vehicles, such as those used by Department of Transportation, Maine Turnpike Authority, and AAA.
“It’s more than just the law, it is also common sense and courtesy to help ensure our first responders are safe to perform their jobs on our roads and highways”, said Lauren Stewart, Director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.
This extends beyond fire department personnel. Law enforcement officers, EMS providers, and tow trucks and wreckers all share the same risks.
“I believe, if you have been towing long enough, every tower that tows on a highway can share a scary near miss story. Until you have loaded a vehicle on the white line of a highway, people just don’t understand the danger we are in out there”, said Scott Hatch, VP of Maine Towing and Recovery Association.
Maine State Police Lt. Colonel Brian Scott said, “Police officers, emergency medical service providers, firefighters, tow truck operators and highway workers are struck and killed or seriously injured as they work on our roadways. They also face far too many close calls on the highways just trying to keep our roads safe for others. They should not have to pay with their lives for the deadly mistakes made by careless drivers. Please follow the law, move over or slow down and give these essential workers room to work.”
“On a regular basis, EMS clinicians witness first-hand, drivers who fail to move over or even slow down while they are on the side of the roadway caring for persons in need”, said Emergency Medical Services Director J. Sam Hurley. “Unfortunately, failure to yield, competing priorities/distracted driving (e.g., cell phone usage), and inquisitive minds (i.e., rubber necking) lead to extremely dangerous scenes on our roadways that put the first responders and other motorists at risk. It’s important to remember to Slow Down, Move Over and focus on navigating the roadway.”