You might say, he just wrote an article on this subject and you would be right. The problem is that the first article was the result of a fire lieutenant losing his life when his fire unit was struck by a tractor trailer on I-295. You would think that this tragedy was enough to cause immediate and effective change. The fact of the matter is that our highways present the greatest hazard to public safety workers, whether fire, police or EMS. On Nov. 18, a fire engine was struck on Chippenham Parkway and a police cruiser was struck on a county roadway. Unfortunately, the driver who struck the fire engine had to be transported to the hospital. Fortunately, no firefighters, medics or police officers were injured at the Nov. 18 incidents.
It is imperative that each of us do everything possible to safely move over at least one lane when approaching law enforcement, fire or EMS vehicles. This is not possible on every roadway, but slowing down is the first step in safely passing an emergency scene, a traffic stop or whatever causes public safety officials to be on the roadway.
Inclement weather makes things even harder, but we must give our public safety workers a wide berth, allowing them to do their jobs without fear of being struck by a vehicle.
It may be time to start shutting down these roadways completely when an accident, fire or traffic stop occurs. You might say, isn’t that a bit drastic? The answer is yes, but drastic measures are required in dire situations. Unless something is done and done quickly, another roadway disaster involving public safety personnel is imminent. “Near misses” happen every day.
There needs to be laws with teeth. In other words, laws need to carry penalties that are capable of changing behavior. One such law that already exists for road workers is the one that doubles speeding fines in work zones. There are other laws that need to be added in conjunction with those that directly impact the safety of public safety workers. No texting and hand-held cell phone use should be one such law. The state of Maryland has this law, but why don’t Virginia and other states?
I am not sure what changes need to take place in the public safety world, but there has got to be something more that can be done. The fire service has started using expensive equipment for blocking, but you cannot put a price tag on saving a public safety worker’s life. I am beginning to think that the public safety world will need to respond with a cadre of equipment designed to be struck by a vehicle, especially on limited access roadways, such as Route 288, I-95, I-295, I-85, Chippenham Parkway and Powhite Parkway.
Firefighters have dedicated their lives to fixing other people’s problems. The problem is that this problem requires the help of every person who gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. When people have the mindset to get by an accident as quickly as possible, the chance for a catastrophe exists. I was caught in the traffic of a motor vehicle collision on I-95 south near Willis Road the other day. Both right lanes were blocked with signage that informed drivers. The fourth lane that goes from the off-ramp from Chippenham to I-95 before Willis Road was being used by many to get as close to the accident scene as possible before attempting to merge left.
Again, the right two lanes were blocked, causing some drivers to have to move over three lanes. I watched cars merging at the fire unit that was blocking the two right lanes.
There are answers to this dilemma, but I am afraid that a police officer, firefighter or medic will pay the price before effective changes will occur.
Please move over!!