Roadway Incident Safety for Emergency Responders — Quick Start Resource
Jack Sullivan, CSP, CFPS, Director of Training
Emergency Responder Safety Institute
Firefighters regularly respond to a wide variety of calls for service. Medical assist calls, structure fires, motor vehicle crashes, brush fires, hazardous material incidents, and technical rescues are our business. Every time we climb out of our rig at an incident scene, we are stepping into a hazard zone with exposure to passing vehicles. There are many incidents each year where firefighters, EMTs and other emergency responders are struck by vehicles. The problem affects firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, law enforcement officers, towing and recovery operators, transportation agency personnel and safety service patrols. Roadway incident scene safety is critically important in our work.
From 2019 to November 30, 2023, 40 firefighters and EMTs were struck and killed while working roadway incidents. For all emergency response groups,(1) 241 personnel were struck and killed during that same period. These figures, tracked by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and publicly available on ResponderSafety.com (Yearly Fatality Reports), include line-of-duty deaths and deaths that occurred when personnel were off-duty and working a second job or simply stopped to help someone in need along the highway. Those off-duty fatalities won’t show up in the official LODD records, but their loss is important. A memorial roll call of the fallen and basic information about each fatality is available on ResponderSafety.com’s Yearly Fatality Reports page.
Here is an overview of what you need to do to protect your personnel while operating in or near moving traffic at roadway incidents. We refer to these roadway incident safety strategies and tactics as traffic incident management or “TIM.”
Roadway Incident Scene Safety Training
First and foremost, develop a safety training class for your personnel about the dangers of working near moving traffic and outline the strategies and tactics necessary for roadway incident scene safety. Review and implement the guidelines offered in the National Fire Protection Association standard NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety, Health, and Wellness Program on traffic incident operations.
Require all personnel to earn the National Traffic Incident Management Training Certificate. Earning this certificate ensures all personnel have a basic understanding of the hazards of working on the roadway and the practices and procedures to implement to mitigate those hazards. The National TIM Training Certificate is available online from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute’s Responder Safety Learning Network (RSLN; rsln.org). Ten modules are required to earn the National TIM Training Certificate, but in all, RSLN has over 45 online learning modules available to all responders for free. Register for free at rsln.org for access to the modules that address all aspects of roadway incident response safety, strategies, and tactics. Additionally, numerous resources, training aids and reference materials are also available for free at the main website, www.respondersafety.com.
The National TIM Training Certificate is also available from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) online or through in-person classes. Look for the National TIM Training program in your area or contact your state police or state transportation officials for a list of authorized instructors in your area. More FHWA TIM info is available on their website.
Provide refresher training as part of your ongoing training evolutions. Use practical and tabletop exercises to teach and drill personnel about how to setup scene safety measures and reduce the chance of personnel being struck by passing vehicles. ResponderSafety.com provides numerous resources for ongoing roadway incident scene safety training, including:
- Roadway Safety Teaching Topic Packages for Instructors (lesson plan, TIM in a Minute video, PowerPoint presentation, and model SOPs) for ten TIM and roadway incident scene safety topics
- Training Topic Plans for Safety Stand Down Week in June
- Training Topic Plans for Crash Responder Safety Week in November
- EMS Provider Safety at Roadway Incidents resources
- Emergency Responder Safety on Rural Roads resources
- Roadway Safety Shorts (brief videos illustrating key roadway incident scene safety practices)
- Videos in key practices and issues, like backing procedures and helmets and head protection
- Train-the-trainer instruction for company officers in the RSLN module “Roadway Incident Safety Training Guidance for Fire Officers” covering how to integrate roadway incident safety training into your department’s training evolutions
The RSLN module Traffic Incident Management: TIM Training and Resources has more suggestions for how to train your personnel.
Train your personnel who are assigned traffic control duties to fulfill the requirements in NFPA 1091, Standard for Traffic Incident Management Personnel Professional Qualifications. Training to this standard ensures your personnel have the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities to safely manage traffic and deploy temporary traffic control devices to create a protected area for emergency operations on the roadway. The Fire Department Safety Officers Association offers a Certified Traffic Incident Management Technical Specialist credential that is accredited to the NFPA 1091 standard. Encourage, incentivize, or require your personnel who manage traffic to earn this certification. Consider setting up a traffic incident management unit or a fire police division to create a cadre of personnel with specific traffic incident management and roadway incident safety skills and experience. The RSLN module “Setting Up a Traffic Incident Management Unit” provides guidance.
Interagency Collaboration, Cooperation and Communication
Collaborate with your mutual aid Fire/EMS agencies and law enforcement to plan roadway scene safety response procedures. Work to develop a regional standard operating procedure or guideline. Communicate frequently with the other agencies on those procedures and actual incident reviews. Strive to improve strategies and tactics on a regular basis. Traffic Incident Management Committees or Teams are an excellent way to promote and facilitate ongoing communication and collaboration.
Emergency Lighting and High Visibility Markings
Deploy emergency lighting packages according to manufacturer recommendations and best practices. You can learn best practices in RSLN’s modules See and Be Seen: Emergency Lighting Awareness and New Technologies in Emergency Vehicle Lighting. Stay current on research in emergency lighting; the ResponderSafety.com Emergency Vehicles and Lighting page is a good place to start.
Apply high-visibility graphics onto emergency apparatus and consider retrofitting existing rigs with features that will enhance scene safety. RSLN’s High Visibility Innovations module provides an overview of this issue. The NFPA 1900/1901/1917 standard sets specific requirements for the design of high visibility markings on fire apparatus and ambulances.
Advance warning and channelizing devices in the form of variable message signs, arrow boards, cones, and flares should be placed upstream of the incident to get the attention of approaching motorists. Fluorescent pink “Emergency Scene Ahead” signs have been designated for use at emergency roadway incidents. Cones should be compliant with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices: orange and 28” to 36” inches tall with two retroreflective bands (6” and 4” that are 2” apart and begin 3-4” from the top of the cone). Each emergency vehicle should carry a minimum of 5 cones. As these temporary traffic controls are deployed, consider reducing some of the emergency vehicle warning lights on scene. Newer LED emergency lights are extremely bright at nighttime and can prevent motorists in the area from seeing emergency personnel working around apparatus. Use your emergency lighting system features and capabilities to dim the lights in low light or night time conditions and consider slowing the flash pattern when parked at incident scenes. Review the Emergency Responder Safety Institute report, "Effects of Emergency Vehicle Lighting Characteristics on Driver Perception and Behavior: Study Report.”
For more details, watch the Advance Warning module on RSLN. To learn how to deploy a pink Emergency Scene Ahead sign, watch the Roadway Safety Short “How to Deploy a Portable Advanced Warning Sign.”
Teach your personnel how to position apparatus at an incident to block the work area and protect victims and responders. Fire apparatus should be parked at an angle to close lane + 1 with the front wheels turned away from the work area. Be sure to deploy properly designed and sized chock blocks for each rig. EMS rigs should be parked in the safe area downstream of the incident scene to protect the loading zone. The loading doors should be angled away from oncoming traffic. Company officers should remind personnel to disembark from the apparatus on the protected side away from traffic as you arrive at the scene.
Personal Protective Equipment
All personnel operating at roadway incidents should be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including head protection. The use of helmets has helped save lives on several occasions when firefighters have been struck at roadway incidents. Reflective helmet markings also enhance the visibility of responders on scene to drivers in the area. Make sure your personnel wear appropriate footwear that features slip-resistant soles.
The subject of helmets and head protection and what helmet design performs best to mitigate the hazards on the roadway has recently become a hot topic. To help you keep up on the latest advances in helmet design and research into the helmet features to look for, check the ResponderSafety.com Helmets and Head Protection page. As of the time this article was written, ASTM International’s E54 Committee on Homeland Security Applications was developing a helmet standard for the pedestrian roadway worker. Current guidance is available in the RSLN module “Helmets and Head Protection for Roadway Incidents.”
Provide your personnel with high visibility garments and implement an SOP to require the high visibility garments to be worn when personnel are working near moving traffic. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires wearing high visibility garments during roadway operations except when exposed to flame, fire, heat, and/or hazardous materials. In those instances, retroreflective turnout gear specified and regulated by another organization (such as NFPA) is permitted. Therefore, personnel should not wear vests while engaged in firefighting operations but all other personnel at roadway incidents should be wearing garments that provide reflective and fluorescent features. The high visibility garments should be compliant with the most recent edition of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 107 standard. Recommended and required personal protective equipment is summarized in the RSLN module “Personal Protective Equipment for Roadway Incident Response.”
Every state in U.S. has a law that requires motorists to slow down and/or move over when approaching stationary emergency vehicles.(2) Personnel who routinely respond to emergencies know that it seems like some motorists are not aware of those laws. We need to do our part to educate the public about Move Over laws and how to drive around emergency scenes. The preferred driver reaction is to move over first or slow down if unable to move over for any reason. We can do that by providing handouts and displays in our stations for visitors. We can do community outreach presentations to tell people about the dangers we face on the roadways. We can collaborate with school systems and school resource police officers to do presentations in high school driver’s education classes. Be sure to include roadway incident safety as one of the topics you cover during Fire Prevention Week public outreach activities. Write articles for your local community based newspapers. Put message signs up at your stations about the subject. Work with local cable service providers, television, and radio stations to develop and present public service messages about the subject. Be creative! Ideas and resources are available to you on the ResponderSafety.com Public Educator and PIO page, including PSAs, lesson plans, and videos like “How to Safety Pass an Emergency Scene.” The RSLN module “Integrating Roadway Safety into Community Risk Reduction Programs” provides detailed public education lesson plans on roadway safety topics.
Proactive safety measures you take today may help save a life or prevent an injury the next time you roll out of the station. Seasoned “road warriors” always watch their back when operating at roadway incidents. Make roadway incident scene safety your priority.
(1) Law enforcement, Fire/EMS, tow operators, roadway service technicians, and DOT/SSP.
(2) Washington, D.C. does not have a Slow Down Move Over law.
Jack Sullivan CSP, CFPS is the Director of Training for the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI), A Committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firefighters Association. Jack is a subject matter expert on roadway incident operations and emergency personnel safety. He promotes proactive strategies and tactics for protecting emergency workers from being struck by vehicles. Jack was a volunteer firefighter and chief officer for 23 years and retired in 2018 from a 40-year career as a safety and risk management consultant for the public and private sector. Jack teaches Roadway Incident Safety & Survival Workshops for emergency responders for ERSI and he is a Master Instructor for the FHWA SHRP2 Traffic Incident Management Train-the-Trainer Workshops. Jack is a member of the Safety, Health and Survival Section of the International Assoc. of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). Jack received the 2018 FDSOA “Dave Dodson Lifetime Service Award.” Jack is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and was presented with an “Excellence in Instruction Award” at their annual meeting at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in 2018. In 2021, Jack was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Virginia State Traffic Incident Management Committee in recognition of years of invaluable leadership and contributions to roadway incident safety nationwide.