Dr. Harry Carter
Dr. Harry Carter
Editors Column- Wednesday, Sep, 17, 2008

Highway Safety: It's Not Just for Emergencies

I guess that there are friends in every part of the world.  It would be a sad and lonely world indeed if people did not make friends.  However, we in the fire and emergency service world have a habit of making strong, solid, and life-long friends.  Many of my greatest friendships have been forged in the fires of our emergency response world.

Perhaps that is who we are as people, however, I would like to think that it is the nature of what we do for the world that brings us much closer together.  Whether it is responding to actual life-threatening situations, or it involves our labors in the world of education, training, or political interaction it is our battles which bring us together in ways not known outside of the world of military combat.

So it is that as a consequence of making so many friends, we are called upon more frequently than most to say good bye to our friends.  The loss of a buddy the other day brought this once again to the forefront of my minds eye.  I was called upon to officiate at the Fireman's Service for Don Donahue, a friend and fellow fire commissioner in Howell Township.

As I approached the funeral home where the service was to be held, I was greeted by state highway department signs about a mile up the road which indicated that there was a lane closure up ahead.  Being the faithful, law-ability soul that I am, I moved to the left and waited my turn to proceed.

I can remember thinking that I hope that this closure was ahead of the funeral home, so that I would not be delayed from my mission.  As I moved along, I noted a well-defined cone stream, directing traffic to the left.   I next noted a N.J. State Highway Department blocking vehicle, right at the point where the cones came to a single lane.

Next there was a line of about 500 yards of cones leading south on the highway.  It was only when I approached the funeral home that I noted the police traffic control point.  There were members of our Howell Township Police Department directing traffic into the funeral home, and halting southbound traffic on the highway to allow people to leave the funeral home.

Let me also note, as a point of personal pride, that each member of the police traffic detail was wearing a proper, reflective yellow safety vest.  Let me stress that these officers were all highly visible as they performed their critical duty.  As I pulled in, I also noted that the traffic cone line carried well past the funeral home, and that the fire, EMS, and OEM vehicles which had responded to the service were all safely parked within the traffic control zone.

During my discussions with the members of Don's fire company I learned that they had met with Ron Carter, our local police chief, to discuss the plans for providing a safety zone around the funeral home.  I want to applaud the fire, police, and highway department troops involved for working so hard to create an area of safety on a major state highway.  U.S. Highway #9 is a major, north-south route in New Jersey.  We need to see more cooperative efforts such as this.

Many places work to create safety zones where there are on-going emergencies.  We need to recognize that there is a need to use proper highway safety techniques anytime our people are operating on the roadways in our response areas.  As a matter of fact, a firefighter in Florida was seriously injured during a highway fund-raising event in Florida.  This is a real shame.

Perhaps there have been other such tragic events that we have not heard about.  I do not know.  What I do know is that our approach to highway safety must be all-encompassing.  Anytime we are operating on the highways of our nation, we need to be doing so in accordance with proper safety techniques.  Death and debilitating injuries do not care why you are out on the road.

My community has worked hard to develop a good working relationship between the police, fire, and EMS communities.  We are fortunate that the state highway department has a series of traffic control teams.  We have met with them and have worked with them on the state highways in Howell Township.

Please consider forming ongoing relationships between and among your fire, police, EMS, and highway departments.  Work hard to meet and great your fellow travelers.  At 0300 on a dark and stormy night is no time to begin a relationship.  Think hard and act today.

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