A 34-year-old female firefighter was killed after being struck by a pickup truck on an icy interstate. The victim was a seven-year veteran firefighter, working as part of a crew dispatched to an accident. The accident occurred near an entrance ramp, off a blind curve on an unlit two-lane highway with a 70 mph speed limit. The two vehicles involved in the accident blocked the ramp at the junction with the highway. Light freezing rain was falling as emergency personnel arrived on the scene at about 7 a.m. The fire department had a written health and safety program, but did not have a standard operating procedure on how to respond to roadway emergencies. The victim and the crew's lieutenant exited the fire engine and walked alongside the highway to approach the accident site. As they walked, an oncoming pickup truck lost control on a patch of black ice and struck the victim, throwing her off the shoulder of the highway onto a grassy bank. Other emergency vehicles arrived to transport her to a local hospital. She died about one week later. The cause of death was listed as brain trauma.
To prevent future occurrences:
- Fire departments should develop, implement and enforce guidelines regarding emergency response on roadways, and employees should be trained on the possible hazards of such work. Fire departments should have standard operating procedures in place that help establish traffic control measures when working at an accident scene. These should include parking emergency vehicles on the same side of the road as the accident, apparatus positioning, lane closures, methods to establish a secure work area, clearing traffic lanes, releasing the accident scene back to normal operation and wearing appropriate protective clothing.
- Fire departments should ensure firefighters establish a protected work area on roadways before responding to an emergency. The first fire apparatus on the scene of an emergency should protect the scene by being placed as a shield against oncoming traffic. Fire trucks should be placed between the flow of traffic and the firefighters working at the scene. Front wheels should be turned away from firefighters to ensure the vehicles will not roll into them if struck from behind.
- Fire departments should ensure firefighters wear suitable high-visibility apparel when working as an emergency responder on a roadway. Emergency personnel need to be highly visible in reflective, brightly colored clothing when working on a roadway. Evaluate the situation to determine the appropriate class of high-visibility garment. Factors to consider include weather, speed, proximity to traffic and task loads. Ensure employees receive proper training to explain the purpose and proper use of this safety apparel.