We talk a lot about the importance of roadside worker safety as part of the Cone Zone campaign, but what about roadside volunteer safety? Volunteer firefighters, for example, are first responders to highway incidents.
They have triple duty:
- Controlling vehicle fires (and other fires)
- Attending to medical emergencies
- Performing emergency traffic control
We recently talked to volunteer firefighter, Martin Huhn, to learn what it’s like to be a first responder working in a Cone Zone (usually on Highway 3), and to share some safety tips for driving near emergency sites.
TRANBC: Thanks for talking to us, Martin. Let’s start with an introduction.
MARTIN: My name is Martin Huhn and I’m a volunteer firefighter with the Greenwood Volunteer Fire Department, which was established in 1897, and has been a volunteer department ever since. We handle a number of different things, from structure fires to interface fires (fires that have the potential to involve buildings and forest fuel or vegetation simultaneously). So, we work alongside BC Wildfire Service and we’re also first responders.
We go to motor vehicle incidents and calls to households to be there in advance of BC Ambulance Service. That’s pretty much who I am and what we do 24/7.
TRANBC: Firefighting can be dangerous work. Why do you choose to volunteer?
MARTIN: I moved to Greenwood three years ago. About a week after I moved to the city, I saw them practising at the fire hall. So, I went over there and they dragged me in and signed me up (laughs). It was something that I never thought I could do; but turns out it’s something I can do. It’s been quite rewarding to be part of the community and be there to help people when they’re in their most dire moments of need.
TRANBC: What is involved with responding to an incident on a roadway?
MARTIN: Well, there are a number of fire departments in the area, and we all have our specialties.
Greenwood is a first responder group. We have trained people for medical emergencies. The city next to us, Midway, is the extrication fire department — they’re called up to all motor vehicle incidents, which may or may not require extrication of passengers from the vehicle. Grand Forks is a little further afield. We also co-op on projects together when there are incidents in between the cities. So, we’re called out for any motor vehicle incident if there is a medical emergency.
We do a number of things when called upon. First, we make sure the scene is secure, so that’s partly emergency traffic control. We also make sure the vehicles are stabilized and we offer whatever assistance we can to the parties involved in the incident for medical treatment until BC Ambulance arrives.
TRANBC: You’re entering an unpredictable, and potentially hazardous, scene while dealing with traffic. What are some of the challenges you face?
MARTIN: It varies depending on the season. In summer, we have to ensure there’s no fire started from the wreck either from electrical sparking or fuel ignition. And we’re in our heavy PPE gear, so when it’s plus 30C, please be kind to us.
In the winter, again, the same thing with fire, but also the roads are very slippery. So, when we respond, we make sure that we’re not going to be in the ditch as well. There are a lot of variables just getting to and from the scene, and then maintaining the scene, besides offering assistance to the people involved.
TRANBC: What is it like trying to work in such an intense environment while traffic is approaching the scene?
MARTIN: People are generally good, but impatience is a problem sometimes. We’ve had drivers come flying through when we’ve instructed them to stop. It’s a very serious thing. Usually, the RCMP are around the corner and they will deal with the matter.
People should remember that, predominantly in most small towns, we are volunteer firefighters. We want to be able to go out and take care of people – that’s why we do it. But if people are making it extra difficult, it’s a serious safety concern.
At this point in the interview, Martin shared several tips for improving traveller safety in and around emergency responder work zones:
5 TIPS FOR TRAVELLING SAFELY NEAR EMERGENCY SCENES
- Slow down through curves: Always be extra cautious when driving around corners and heed the suggested advisory speed signs (those yellow ones). Martin has attended incident scenes where there is low visibility on approach because emergency traffic control hasn’t yet had time to set up. “Highway 3 is curvy. We’re usually quite aways from the scene (when doing emergency traffic control) because we want to make sure people are slowed down.”
- Report incidents smartly: If you encounter an incident in the Greenwood area, or any other area where there is no cell service, try to identify a landmark or count the number of kilometres you’ve travelled from the incident site before you were able to acquire cell service. Emergency dispatchers can pinpoint the location of callers, but it can be tricky to determine the actual site of the incident without detailed information.
- Stop the right way: When stopped due to a road closure with emergency responders, leave space between the vehicle ahead of you and stop closer to the shoulder. This gives other emergency vehicles more room to get through to the scene, and gives traffic control a clearer line of sight with which to monitor traffic queues.
- Stay back from emergency vehicles: Never pass an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing and sirens on. Good chance it is headed to an incident scene on the highway, which means you would be speeding into a hazardous situation. Yes, that actually does happen, says Martin.
- Know before you go. DriveBC. Use it. “I always make sure to visit that website for information,” says Martin. “It can be sunny and warm in Grand Forks and snowing up in Greenwood, so it’s good to get a preview of your route.”
Want to learn more about the wide range of workers who perform their jobs roadside? We suggest browsing the following blogs: