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Firefighters and Traffic

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By John Morse

During my travels today, I drove past a pretty serious accident.  One car on its side, and another with some serious front end damage.  Most of the chaos had died down, the ambulances were gone, and the incident had kind of winded down to the clean-up phase, and waiting for the tow trucks.  As I approached the scene I was met with one of my biggest pet peeves, firefighters directing traffic.  I hate to see firefighters directing traffic.

I guess my true disgust for this comes from the fact that the firefighters I worked with really had no training in directing traffic.  I have seen firefighters actually standing in the roadway making things worse for the motorists, and for the firefighters.  Another reason I dislike seeing firefighters directing traffic is that on my department, no one ever assigns a firefighter to direct traffic.  Our traffic directors are more of what you would call freelance traffic cops.  Freelancing on the fire ground or accident scene is another thing that raises my blood pressure, but that is a whole different topic.

As I approached this accident, I was looking into the setting sun, so it was kind of hard to see what was going on.  The first person I noticed was an older gentlemen dressed in blue jeans and a gray shirt moving both hands up and down, signaling the traffic to slow down.  You guessed it the combination of sunset in my face and this guy wearing dark close made him almost invisible, and he was the first thing directing the traffic.

Things got better after that, the next firefighter directing traffic was wearing his turnout gear, a reflective vest, and was also holding an illuminated sign with stop on one side and slow on the other side.  I had never seen a firefighter holding that kind of sign while directing traffic.  It almost looked like a good idea.

Further up I saw more firefighters, all wearing reflective vests. All together there was about 10 firefighters and 2 police officers working this accident.  With only two police officers, there actually seemed to be a need for firefighters directing traffic.  Other than that first guy, they were doing an excellent job of it.  Since this department had their act together on traffic, I am going to assume that the first “invisible guy” was not a part of that department.

I learned a few things in a matter of minutes.  First, there is a time and place for firefighters to direct traffic. Second, reflective vests, or reflective bunker gear, make a huge difference in being scene while you are in the roadway.  I have worked a lot of accidents and I really have never considered things like how visible I was to cars approaching the scene.  Sunsets, rain, snow, fog, and many other things affect how drivers can see you while you are working on the road.

So there really is a reason for firefighters to direct traffic, and some are very good at it.  The next time I see firefighters directing traffic, I will have a different attitude.  Instead of saying they shouldn’t be doing that, I will hopefully comment on what a great job they are doing, just like the guys I saw today.

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