GREENBELT, Md. (WUSA) - The Prince George's County Fire Chief is speaking out about two recent incidents that have damaged emergency apparatus causing them to be placed out of service for an extended time and unavailable for emergency responses, according to a press release issued by the Fire/EMS department.
The release states: "As our highways grow more congested and driver inattentiveness grows due to the advent of handheld communication and information technologies, our concern for responder and worker safety at traffic incidents has never been greater," said Fire Chief Marc Bashoor. "While secondary incidents involving workers can take many forms, they often occur when our emergency personnel and apparatus are struck by inattentive or distracted drivers, while we are working at a roadway scene."
While distractions may have played a role in these crashes, the possibility of alcohol being a factor is also being investigated in each of these incidents by police.
Two fire engines, large pieces of apparatus that carry water, hoses and personnel to scene of fires and other emergencies, have been involved in separate incidents recently that involved a civilian vehicle slamming into them as they were stationary on a roadway protecting personnel that were operating on a highway. Engines from Branchville and Greenbelt were providing barrier protection for firefighters, medics, police officers and civilians at the scene of highway motor vehicle crashes when these secondary incidents occurred.
The Branchville engine sustained over $50,000 in damages on August 18 and the Greenbelt engine over $30,000 in damages on September 8. Each incident occurred on the Capital Beltway early on Saturday mornings, 4:15 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. respectively. Fortunately, no one was injured as a result of these secondary incidents.
In addition to laws banning the use of handheld devices while driving a motor vehicle there is also a new Maryland law that many motorists may not be aware of. The intent of Maryland's 'move over' law is to provide an extra barrier of safety for firefighters, paramedics and police officers working along the highway. Drivers approaching from the rear of an emergency vehicle using visual signals while stopped on a highway should, if possible, "make a lane change into an available lane not immediately adjacent to the emergency vehicle. This movement should only be done if another lane in the same direction is available and the move can be made safely without impeding other traffic. If moving to another lane away from the stopped emergency vehicle is not possible, the law requires drivers to 'slow to a reasonable and prudent speed that is safe for existing weather, road, and vehicular or pedestrian traffic conditions."
Violation of the "move over" law is a primary offense with a fine of $110 and one point. Fines and points escalate when you don't move over and you're involved in a crash.
Any opportunity that the public safety leaders have to enhance the safety of our personnel operating on incident scenes is a high priority. The Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is proud to join with our emergency service partners in an effort to reduce and eliminate these types of incidents.
Do not use a handheld device (cell, email, text, etc) while driving, never drink alcohol or use drugs and drive and Chief Bashoor emphasized, "Any time you see an emergency vehicle stopped in the roadway with lights flashing; SLOW DOWN, MOVE OVER, and ABOVE ALL, STAY ALERT! The single most important thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to pay attention behind the wheel. Help us avoid yet another needless tragedy - slow down, move over, stay alert."
The Fire/EMS Department is a strong advocate for safety of our personnel at all times. Fire Chief Bashoor wants personnel to continue remaining safe by providing barrier protection when appropriate and being vigilant about their situational awareness. Bashoor is also directing personnel to view safety videos produced by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI). Created as a Committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association, the ERSI serves as an advisory group of public safety leaders and transportation experts committed to reducing deaths and injuries to America's emergency responders.
Every day, our nation's firefighters, EMTs/paramedics, state troopers, police officers, sheriff's deputies, tow operators, and departments of transportation responders are exposed to the grave hazards inherent in emergency responses on the nation's highways and roadways. ERSI is dedicated to the safety of these men and women by engaging in and promoting activities that include developing educational material to support responder safety training; promoting the National Unified Goal (NUG) for Traffic Incident Management (TIM) including responder safety; safe, quick clearance and interoperable communications; encouraging the development of TIM Teams, promoting collaboration, communication and cooperation among the nation's emergency responders and keeping emergency responders up to date on national rules, regulations and trends related to safe roadway incident operations."