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Firefighters Working Along Highways Face Risk of Fatal Traffic Injuries

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
August 2, 2001

Fire fighters face a serious risk of being struck and killed by traffic when offering emergency assistance along busy highways, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warns in a new bulletin.

From 1995 to 1999, 17 firefighters were struck and killed by motor vehicles while working along highways at crash scenes, an 89 percent increase over the number killed in the previous five years. These fatalities demonstrate that line-of-duty risks to fire fighters are not limited to the hazards of fighting structural blazes and wildfires, NIOSH said in “NIOSH Hazard ID No. 12: Traffic Hazards to Fire Fighters While Working Along Roadways.

The weather, the time of day, lighting, traffic speed and volume, and road configuration are among the factors that affect fire fighter safety along roadways, the NIOSH bulletin noted. In one incident noted by NIOSH, one fire fighter was fatally struck, and another severely injured, by a car that lost control on a wet, busy highway. In a second case, a fire fighter died after being struck by a tractor trailer truck during a heavy rainstorm on a stretch of highway where 39 collisions had occurred in five years.

The NIOSH bulletin recommends precautions for anticipating and preventing such risks. Among several recommendations for fire departments, NIOSH suggests that standard operating procedures for roadway operations should be developed and enforced, that fire fighters should be trained in safe procedures for operating near moving traffic, and that fire fighters should be provided with high-visibility apparel.

Among recommendations for fire fighters, NIOSH suggests that fire apparatus should be positioned to protect fire fighters from traffic, that fire fighters should position themselves and any victims in a secure area to maximize their visibility to motorists if it is impossible to protect the scene from immediate danger, and that fire fighters should use traffic control devices (such as fluorescent light wands) that maximize the fire fighter’s visibility to motorists when controlling traffic at a scene.

NIOSH investigates fire fighter fatalities under a program funded by Congress in 1998. To help prevent future deaths, the agency works closely with fire departments, fire fighters, and other fire service professionals to disseminate results of its investigations.

NIOSH Hazard ID No. 12: Traffic Hazards to Fire Fighters While Working Along Roadways,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-143, is available on the NIOSH web page . Printed copies will be available after August 22, 2001, by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). Further information about NIOSH research also is available through the web page and the toll-free number.