Photo Courtesy of g2law.com
If you're a first responder, you know what you're looking at. Per the law firm's website where this photo came from, this accident was caused by a driver who was texting. Texting is but one activity that takes a driver's concentration (and eyesight) away from the roadway.
Over the past two decades or so, between the manufacturing of cars and pickups with excellent soundproofing and first-class Dolby 5.1 audio with top-of-the-line speakers and the explosion of social media apps available on our cell phones, many drivers no longer hear our sirens or air horns until our apparatus are nearly on top of them. And not only do they no longer hear us, even with the latest and greatest red, white, blue, yellow and green emergency lights, they don't see us either, as they are too busy reading and/or texting on social media. This is a proven deadly formula!
When I started in the fire service in 1977, we would occasionally be behind elderly drivers who didn't hear our sirens, not due to the manufacturing process, but simply because they were hearing impaired. However, when we were close enough and hit the "Grovers," they would suddenly realize we were behind them and finally, pull over. And to think that back then, when we still mounted the speakers for electronic sirens on the roofs of police and fire vehicles, they still, all too often, could not hear them if their windows were "rolled up." (electric windows were still somewhat of a luxury!
Today, we can multiply the problem one-hundred-fold, for it is not just that their ears that don't hear us, but there eyes no longer see us, as they are focused on the cellphone in their hands. Our good friend and colleague, Ryan Pennington taught us that we can learn if there is a good chance we have a "hoarding home" if you look at their yard. If they hoard in the house, there's a good chance you can see some of the same in the yard. Let's apply that line of thinking to distracted drivers - if you see a vehicle in the passing lane on the highway traveling 35 MPH, you probably have a distracted driver.
They are the ones, traveling slowly, as they steer the vehicle with the pinky finger of one hand, while holding the phone with both hands and texting or simply typing something with both thumbs! Just driving on an errand yesterday morning, I actually had a young female driving her car in the passing lane of a local road, while holding her phone and typing as described above. The road is a local three-lane roadway on each side with a speed limit of 40 MPH. When I wound up behind her, I was stuck at around 28 MPH. When I was able to move to the middle lane and honked my horn as I passed her, she looked at me, raised both hands in the air with palms up as if to say, "WHAT??? Doesn't everybody do this?"
The problem is that too many people are doing that and sadly, much worse. Those are the drivers, who hit other cars, injuring and killing the innocent and, killing First Responders who are on the roads responding to an emergency. Perhaps worse, the National Safety Council reported on April 3rd of this year, that according to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, 71% of U.S. drivers take a picture of emergency vehicles on the side of the road, responding to an emergency or even, making a routine traffic stop. Worse still, 16% – more than 1 in 10 – said they either have struck or nearly struck a first responder or emergency vehicle stopped on or near the road. In spite of all this, 89% of drivers say they believe distracted motorists are a major source of risk to first responders. (National Safety Council website - April 3, 2019)
Listen, there is no magic pill that is going to stop this trend. However, knowing who/what our "enemy" is/does, allows us to learn from these incidents and increase and /or change the training we are doing, in a strong effort to protect all First Responders who have or are responding to an emergency on an active roadway.
To this end, "5-Alarm Task Force" has scheduled a special panel podcast dealing with this topic and its ramifications for First Responders. The podcast is scheduled to be recorded on Monday, May 13th. My guests will be Chief Billy Goldfeder, Chief Victor Conley, Chief Anthony Correia, Chief Brian Soller and Mr. Steve Austin, one of the founders of the Emergency Responder Safety Institute.
We will discuss this problem in vivid detail. Chief Conley nearly lost four firefighters when a tractor-trailer struck their brand-new till truck, acting as the "blocker on the scene of an emergency on an active roadway. The tiller was completely destroyed, and it took about a year for the four firefighters to recover from their serious injuries and return to work.
It is our hope that you will listen to this podcast and to my guests who all have too much experience with this issue. There will be discussions with information to help you help your own department with this issue.
Whether you live in a big city or in a rural area, if there are motorists in your response district, you may have already had this type of emergency and dealt with it in your own way. However, this podcast will bring you the shared wisdom of my guests that we hope you will take back to your own department and share the podcast and its information with your chiefs and other officers.
This podcast is dedicated in memory of every First Responder who has lost his/her life to a distracted driver. May their memories always be for a blessing.
The podcast should be released on Monday, May 20th. Please watch for it, listen to it and share it with others, especially your line and chief officers.
More than once!
Stay Safe & Stay Well!
Steve Greene is the president of Dalmatian Productions, Inc. and the Creator/Host of the "5-Alarm Task Force" podcast.