In our world of emergency response, few responses are as challenging and perilous as those involving vehicle crashes. We, along with our partners in EMS, law enforcement, and towing and recovery, put our lives on the line every day on America’s roadways, responding to the scene of crashes to provide aid and rescue those in need. Despite our training and education, the dangers we face on crash scenes are real, and the risks are very high. This is why the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has established "Crash Responder Safety Week" — a dedicated week to raise awareness about the unique hazards we face and to emphasize the importance of our safety.
We all play a crucial role in our communities. We are first on the scene, often dealing with mangled vehicles, hazardous materials, and injured individuals in need of immediate assistance. While our job is to save lives and property, it's essential to remember that our safety must come first.
One of the most significant risks we face is the danger of being struck by passing vehicles. High-speed roads, distracted drivers, and unpredictable traffic patterns make crash scenes incredibly hazardous places to work. According to ResponderSafety.com, there were 33 fire and EMS personnel killed due to struck-bys from 2019 through 2022. There were also 82 law enforcement fatalities and 90 tow operators, road service technicians, and DOT workers killed in this same time frame.
Crash Responder Safety Week, observed November 13-17 this year, serves as an annual reminder of the dangers faced by those of us who respond to vehicle crashes. During this week, various initiatives and activities are organized to educate first responders and the public about safety measures and best practices to minimize these risks.
This year’s overall theme is “Protect Those Who Protect You”, with specific themes each day. There are a number of resources available on FHWA’s dedicated webpage, Crash Responder Safety Week (CRSW) November 13-17, 2023 - FHWA (dot.gov), and you are strongly encouraged to use these resources for not only your members, but to also help educate the motoring public in your area.
While Crash Responder Safety Week is primarily aimed at educating and supporting our first responders, it's also a valuable opportunity to raise public awareness. Everyone on the road shares a responsibility to keep all crash responders safe, and we should capitalize on this opportunity to reinforce this message.
Crash Responder Safety Week should be an impactful reminder that all first responders who provide aid at crash scenes face significant risks every day. The goal of this dedicated week is to prioritize safety and further awareness about the dangers we face, both from the hazardous conditions at crash scenes along with the inattentiveness of passing drivers.
As a profession, it is our responsibility to protect our responders to the best of our ability. By following best practices and educating our citizens to be safe and considerate drivers when approaching crash scenes, we can reduce the risks faced by all responders and allow them to safely return home. Crash Responder Safety Week should be a call to action, a time to reflect on the sacrifices made by those we have lost, and a commitment to keeping us safe on our nation’s roadways as we serve our communities day in and day out.
Norris W. Croom III, EFO, CEMSO, CFO, is the Fire Chief for the Castle Rock (CO) Fire and Rescue Department. He’s been a member of the IAFC and EMS Section since 1998, and currently serves as the EMS Section International Director.