Responder Safety: Drive It, Push It, Tow It or Drag It!

July 7, 2008
All responders have safe practices in mind. But it’s not uncommon for a police officer to approach an accident scene differently from a firefighter, who was trained differently from a utility worker. The goal is the same, but a lack of cohesion and communication can prove to be deadly.

The Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) offers a course that teaches first responders how to stay alive while saving the lives of others. Law enforcement, firefighters, EMS personnel and public works employees learn how to communicate with one another and quickly clear accident scenes while protecting themselves and the public.

Why Quick Clearance?

Quick clearance of a traffic incident is critical because it shortens the time responders are in harm’s way. It reduces the incident duration, which decreases chances for secondary crashes, and it minimizes congestion by restoring the roadway to its full traffic-carrying capacity.

Texas is an example of a state that now authorizes law enforcement agencies – without owner consent – to quickly remove personal property, such as vehicles, cargo or debris, from roadways if traffic is blocked or public safety is jeopardized. Law enforcement personnel also are protected from claims of damage to the property unless removal was carried out in a reckless or grossly negligent manner.

Getting It Done

Executing quick and safe clearance of an accident scene requires the right training, equipment and personnel. Usual means of removal include driving a vehicle under its own power, using push-bars on police cars, utilizing tow chains or tow trucks, using public works equipment or accepting voluntary assistance from the public working in cooperation with law enforcement.

Responders also should be prepared to promptly summon any special service or equipment that might be needed, such as wreckers, sweepers, traffic control devices, front-end loaders, cranes and utility crews.
The bottom line is that quick clearance at traffic accident scenes keeps responders and road users safer. Getting the right training to execute this properly can save lives!

Howard McCann, P.E., is transportation training director for the Texas Engineering Extension Service. Retired from the U. S. Department of Transportation, McCann now works with TEEX specialists in law enforcement and fire services, and helped develop the agency’s new Safe Practices for Traffic Incident Responders course.
Robert Averitt, a 28-year veteran of the Austin Police Department, has extensive experience with clearing traffic incidents and also contributed to the development of TEEX’s Safe Practices for Traffic Incident Responders curriculum. He serves as an adjunct instructor for the TEEX course.

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