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April 21, 2013

Traffic group works to reduce secondary crashes

Representatives from 11 agencies undergo training to make accident scenes safer

TERRE HAUTE — Properly managing an accident site can help protect emergency responders and reduce secondary crashes, which can be fatal.

Representatives from 11 different emergency responding agencies underwent a second day of training Saturday at Ivy Tech Community College as part of the Wabash Valley Traffic Incident Management Group.

Thomas E. Melville, a retired major with the Indiana State Police, served as the Traffic Incident Management instructor, along with Jason Doerflein of the Marion County Health Department and Major Jeff Fox of the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

Melville said the training is working to get everyone who comes to the scene “playing in the sandbox again. Over the years fire departments train in their silo and police in their silo and EMS over there and when we come to a scene we don’t know who we are working with and most of the time we don’t care,” he said.

“It is a muli-discipline training. From law enforcement, health department and fire department or department of transportation,” he said.

Melville said on average, 59 law enforcement officers nationwide are killed when struck at an incident scene. Fire departments average 12 deaths a year nationwide and towing services average 100 deaths per year nationwide, Melville said.

“Some of that is because law enforcement or fire departments will leave the scene while they are still there,” Melville said. “That means the tow people are out there unprotected. We are trying to get people to realize the incident scene is ours, not police, or fire or towing, so we are working together,” Melville said.

Charles Gill, owner of Gill’s Towing & Recovery in Terre Haute, said the training is good review.

“I have been in the towing business for 31 years, but this is good training to help reduce secondary crashes,” Gill said during a session break. “I try to get in front of the accident scene and off to the side.”

Training went to small details, such as were to place bright orange-colored traffic cones to funnel traffic and even the use of front facing traffic lights and police sirens. Melville told the group that only rear facing lights should be used on the opposite side of a divided highway to prevent traffic coming from the opposite way from slowing down and causing accidents, such as after people slow to see what happened or even photograph the scene using their cellular phone.

“If there is no safety reason, you shut those front lights off,” Melville told the group.

He stressed the need to communicate the exact location of an incident and give other responding agencies a pre-warning to what they are coming into. “We use big fire engines as blocking vehicles, because they are heavy. When someone hits those, it is better than hitting a police squad car or ambulance,” Melville said.

The training also included informing responders how to set up an accident scene to help reduce problems from the “D” driver — which includes drug, drunk, drowsy, distracted and even dumb driver.

“We want to D-driver proof as much as we can at our scene. You can never have 100 percent protection, but you can cut down incidents so we don’t get killed,” Melville said.

Twenty-one percent of vehicle crashes nationwide are secondary crashes. And 18 percent of those secondary crashes are fatal nationwide, Melville added. “We might be working a property damage crash, but now a secondary crash is fatal.”

Last year, several fatalities on Interstate 70 were secondary wrecks, he said.

“This training is intended to bring everyone back together again,” he said.

Indiana is the only state with a law-enforcement led Traffic Incident Management effort. The state has 25 different agencies, such as fire, police, coroners, insurance agencies, even towing agencies that come together six times a year for training and best practices. Other states use transportation departments to head such efforts, Melville said.

TIM is a federally funded program. “Indiana is one of the leaders in the nation. We were the first pilot state,” Melville said.

Fox said the need to educate Wabash Valley first responders on an accident scene is also necessary to prevent any potential conflicts of how the scene should be handled.

“Part of my driving force was I began to see and to hear of incidents in our community where law enforcement and fire [departments] were beginning to have some issues. We were behind the curve, in my opinion, in that the [TIM] initiative had not been rolled out to all the disciplines,” Fox said.

“We are all being asked to do more with less,” Fox said. “If that is not a great reason to bring us all together to work together, I don’t know what else is, and this program is exactly that. It is coming together, working together and how do we make this work.”

Law enforcement cannot investigate a scene plus manage traffic. So, fire departments can help manage that, Fox said. Another example is a fire truck being the first on the scene. A police officer may want them to set up at the back of the accident as there is no fire. However, until an ambulance arrives, the firefighters are the first EMT’s on scene, which can impact where they should be placed at the accident site, Fox said.

Tabletop exercises used enlarged Google maps of high-accident intersections. In Saturday’s exercise, three intersections were used. Small toy vehicles were used as traffic and emergency response vehicles to show where the vehicles should be placed. The intersections were of South 13th Street and Poplar Street; U.S. 41 and Barbara Lane, just north of the southside Walmart; and Interstate 70, near the 10-mile marker.

“Table top exercises are the glue that puts the classroom training all together,” Melville said. “They have to place those vehicles, talk about why they did what they did and hopefully they are thinking an open road philosophy. As soon as you provide safety for yourself as the first responder and the incident victim” as well as an area behind that called the “Q,” responders then look to route traffic.

“We believe if we can cut down on secondary crashes, we will cut down on fatal crashes,” Melville said.

Saturday’s training included 32 people from the Indiana State Police, Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, Terre Haute City Police, TransCare and Care ambulance services, Riley and Honey Creek Fire Departments, Putnam County Sheriff’s Department, and Lewis and Posey Towns.

Fox said two more training sessions are scheduled for this year, one in August and again in October.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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