Dr. Harry Carter
Dr. Harry Carter
Editors Column- Friday, Dec, 15, 2006


My job for the past several years here at Respondersafety.com has been to share the latest trends and information with you about how to make our job of operating on the highways of our great nation a bit safer. This is an important job.

This is a critically important job. If I do my work properly and effectively maybe someone of you out there in reader land gets to go home safely. I try to put my heart into my work, but sometimes things happen that give me pause to ponder. I keep posting article after article about the people in the emergency service world who are being struck, injured, and killed.

The job does not seem to let up. There is not a day that goes by where no struck-bys are reported. It is maddening to see the same things happening over and over across the nation, and around the world. Are there those among our colleagues who believe themselves to be exempt from the laws of nature; both Mother Nature and human nature?

To judge the type of incidents we keep seeing, that would have to be my guess.

We have been working on this here at Respondersafety.com and the Emergency Response Safety Institute since 1999. It bothers me that we are still seeing a spate of these incidents every week.

By now you would imagine that we in the emergency response world would be near to an agreement on how we should all be operating out there on the highways. You would think that we could come to some agreement on how to attack this problem. You would suppose that we all agree that it is a problem.

Just when you think that you have herded all of the kittens into a fenced-in area for safekeeping, something happens which shakes your faith in the system. Such an event happened recently in my very own Garden State of New Jersey. An incident out on Interstate Highway #80 led to a confrontation between local fire officials and a New Jersey State Trooper. After a considerable period of reflection I have decided to write a bit about this incident and how it was handled.

Let me begin by discounting the usual array of "he said/she said" anecdotal stories that were making the rounds in our area. My investigation led to an interesting discovery. Some time ago an agreement was created that set forth the operational procedures to be used in the Morris County where this incident occurred.

Discussions were held between and among the fire, state police, local police, EMS, and New Jersey Department of Transportation personnel who must work the Interstate 80 Corridor. A set of operational guidelines was created and all parties to the agreement signed off. Like many things in life, there are always those who do not get the word.

Shortly after the incident occurred, members of the fire service in Morris County made contact with our Larry Petrillo, our New Jersey State Fire Marshal. He made an initial investigation of the circumstances and discovered the existence of the county highway safety guidelines. He immediately contacted the office of Colonel Joseph R. Fuentes in order to open a dialogue on this critical operational area.

In short order he set up a meeting between fire and state police officials. During our discussions he characterized the meeting as most productive. The state police and the fire officials exchanged information on the highway safety operational procedures that were in place. It seems that the county spent a great deal of time and educational effort in getting the word out to all of the fire and EMS folks in the county. Like many things in life, there are always those who do not get the word.

They agreed to review them, as well as other plans in place in the Middlesex and Camden County areas. The goal of this overall interaction is to create a set of state-wide highway operational procedures. It is my hope that some order can come from the chaos of this situation. It does no one any good when we battle amongst ourselves. Fire Marshal Petrillo is to be commended for getting out in front of this serious matter in short order.

In my hometown, Howell Township, we have spent a great deal of time and effort creating positive relationships with our local police force. Since my local fire company provides rescue, extrication, and fire protection services on local, county, and state highways, it is critical for us to work smoothly with our colleagues in the police and EMS organizations.

We should all learn from the positive experience of the folks in Maryland who went through a similar fire/police misunderstanding a few years ago. They took what could have been a divisive situation and made it into a positive experience. They now have a better level of cooperation out on the highways of that fine state.

This should be our goal across the board. If we are to lower the deaths and injuries which are happening daily, we need to all be operating from a common playbook.

Please accept the best wishes from all of us here at Respondersafety.com for a joyous Holiday Season. Be careful out there on the highways of our nation.

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