One of the top priorities of the IAFC has always been the safety of our firefighters on emergency incidents, including those on our highways. Having worked on an engine company that responded to interstate 90 near Chicago, I know first-hand how dangerous these calls can be and how they affect traffic congestion.
I know we're all wearing our ANSI safety vests and we're doing our best to provide protection for our crews by blocking lanes with our apparatus, all of which helps with scene safety. But there is always more we could we be doing to improve scene safety and prevent secondary crashes.
Roughly 20% of the annual firefighter deaths are due to vehicle accidents or being struck by vehicles, but it's not just the fire service that's suffering from needless deaths on the highways. EMS personnel, law-enforcement officers, tow-truck drivers and highway workers also face this risk.
Additionally, traffic incidents can be very costly in time and money to our state, local and tribal municipalities. Traffic incidents cause about one quarter of the congestion on American roadways; for every minute a freeway lane is blocked, four minutes of travel delay time results.
What's more, for every minute the delay or queue remains in place at an incident, the chances of a secondary crash increases by 2.8%. Secondary crashes alone are responsible for an estimated 18% of all freeway fatalities and 20% of all collisions.
If we can help our law-enforcement partners prepare for and respond to primary incidents, then congestion and the frequency and seriousness of the secondary crashes will be reduced.
One such method is traffic-incident management (TIM). TIM consists of a planned and coordinated multidisciplinary process to detect, respond to and clear traffic incidents so traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible. Effective TIM reduces the duration and impacts of traffic incidents and improves the safety of motorists, crash victims and emergency responders.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) manages the TIM Program, a key to reducing traffic incidents and the severity of crashes, and the congestion and frustration they can create. Over the last year, I have worked with FHA to help promote TIM.
TIM is based on three fundamental principles:
- Responder safety
- Safe and quick incident clearance
- Prompt, reliable, interoperable communication
Typical roles and responsibilities at traffic incidents assumed by fire and EMS departments include:
- Protecting the incident scene
- Suppressing fires
- Providing emergency medical care
- Serving as incident commander
- Providing initial hazmat response and containment
- Rescuing crash victims and arranging transportation
- Assisting in incident clearance
- Providing traffic control until law enforcement or DOT arrive
This month, the International Association of Chiefs of Police released a new video called "Manage to Survive: Traffic Incident Management for First Responders." The video is available to all agencies at no charge, with the hopes that all first responders will use it during roll call and other regular training sessions.
If we're going to be successful in reducing deaths of our firefighters and other first responders, we as the leaders in the fire and emergency service must take the lead on this issue and work with the other responding agencies on proper incident management on our highways. We must establish open lines of communication and plan for major traffic incidents.
Using TIM, we can reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our highways. We owe it to our firefighters and the citizens we're to sworn to protect.
Chief Hank Clemmensen
President and Chairman of the Board