ResponderSafety.com Podcast

The Emergency Responder Safety Institute presents the ResponderSafety.com podcast, a closer look at hot topics, new information, innovative approaches, and case studies in responder safety at roadway incidents and in traffic incident management. Listen for practical, actionable information you can implement today at your next roadway incident response to improve safety of emergency response personnel and the public, no matter which agency you work for. Come learn from interviews and special features with experts and leaders in emergency services. All agencies who respond to roadway incidents — fire, EMS, fire police, law enforcement, DOT, safety service patrols, special traffic units, medevac, and towing and recovery — are all welcome and will find value in what we discuss.

2021
Episode 3: Rich Marinucci - On Episode 3 of the ResponderSafety.com podcast, Chief Rich Marinucci, Executive Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA), offers his take on the biggest safety risks to firefighters today, the role of the safety officer at roadway incident responses, why preventable deaths from operations like backing up apparatus are still happening, and the FDSOA’s new Certified Traffic Incident Management Technician credential.
Episode 2: Loveland-Symmes - Today we're going to take a closer look at the emergency services unit of the Loveland-Symmes Ohio Fire Department.

Rod Ammon: Welcome to our first episode of the respondersafety.com Podcast brought to you by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, a committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman's Association. We're excited to be starting this up and we're looking forward to going deep on some case studies and shining lights on departments and emergency responders out there doing innovative things in responder safety at roadway incidents and in traffic incident management. I'm Rod Ammon from respondersafety.com. And I'll be your host for the podcast. Today, we'll be talking to Steve Austin and Jack Sullivan from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute about how the organization and ResponderSafety.com got started.

Then we'll talk to Bob Bemis of the Pennsylvania state police about his experience being struck and injured while working at a roadway incident scene. It's an essential perspective that sets the tone for the work we will be doing on this podcast and frames why our continued effort to improve responder safety is so important. At the top of every podcast, we'll give you a quick update on news from ResponderSafety.com. Then we'll get into our focus topic.

As of today, April 12th, 2021, 17 emergency responders have been struck this year and killed while operating at a roadway incident scene. We have information on the loss of these responders and a memorial tribute available respondersafety.com/fatalityreports. Here are two other new resources available from the Emergency Responder Safety Institute to help you and your department operate safely at roadway incident scenes. The new Traffic Incident Management Technician Certification offered by the Fire Department Safety Officers Association in cooperation with the Emergency Responder Safety Institute is now available. This certification is Pro Board accredited to NFPA 1091, the standard for traffic incident management personnel, professional qualifications. And it's an important way to demonstrate your skill set in the use of traffic control to ensure a safe roadway incident response. Visit fdsoa.org/tim or TIM that's fdsoa.org/tim and you can apply for a certification.

If you are a member of the Safety Service Patrol, you'll also want to check out an article in the respondersafety.com news section, where John M. Sullivan from the Tennessee Department of Transportation Help unit and an NFPA 1091 technical committee member, discusses the role of the TIM Technician Certification in the training and credentialing of Safety Service Patrol personnel.

ERSI is continuing to support the discussion of helmets and head protection at roadway incident responses. We'll have a new responder safety learning network module on this soon, but until then, please check our new page with an update on the current status of research and the work of Lieutenant Brady Robinette of the Lubbock Fire Rescue. You'll find that in the respondersafety.com news section as well. You'll find links to all of these resources on the podcast page on rsln.org.

And now, since this is our first podcast, we should start the story at the very beginning. Let's bring in Steve Austin and Jack Sullivan to talk about how this whole responder safety effort got started. Steve Austin is the project manager for respondersafety.com. He has a long and extraordinarily distinguished career in the Fire Service. He first joined the Fire Service in 1963 and has been a member of the Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder company of Newark Delaware for 42 years.

During his career with State Farm, he managed both governmental affairs and claims operations for fire, arson and life safety issues. He's a past president of many fire service organizations in the Delaware area and the driving force behind the nationally recognized leadership of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman's Association on the issue of roadway incident response safety. He's been involved in just about every aspect of raising roadway incident response safety to national prominence, including chairing the NFPA 1091 Technical Committee. He's also received numerous honors, including one of the highest awards in the fire service, the Mason Lankford Fire Service Leadership Award, and induction into the Firehouse Hall of Fame and the Delaware Fire Service Hall of Fame. Welcome Steve.

Steve Austin: Hey Rod, good to be with you.

Rod Ammon: We also have Jack Sullivan. He's the director of training for the Emergency Responder Safety Institute here today. Jack was a volunteer firefighter and fire officer for 23 years and recently retired from a 40 year career in safety and loss control for public and private sector organizations. He's our nation's top expert on responder safety at roadway incidents. He's a master instructor for the Federal Highway Administration SHRP2 Incident Management Train the Trainer Workshops, a technical member of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and chairs that committee's task group for the chapter of the manual on uniform traffic control devices. That covers the control of traffic through traffic incident management areas. Jack teaches and speaks extensively on the topics of responder safety and traffic incident management. Jack, thanks for being here.

Jack Sullivan: Hi Rod and Steve. Thanks for having me.

Rod Ammon: So, I wanted to kick this off with first talking about how the responders safety effort got started. You both were working in different tracks and then joined forces. So, let's tell that story. Steve, why don't you start out by explaining how CVVFA got involved in champion responder safety at roadway incidents.

Steve Austin: One of our members of Captain Joe Kroboth, our police captain in Western Maryland was struck on the highway, close to the intersection of I81 or I70 near Hagerstown, Maryland. He was struck and killed and even more poignant was the fact that his son, Joe Kroboth III, was the fire chief of the Volunteer Fire Company of Halfway Maryland at the time. So, after this happened, a group of us at Cumberland Valley decided that we wanted to do something about this.

There were numerous tragedies where people were struggling, not only firefighters, but EMTs in the later years and police officers telling the recovery people, but no one had ever stopped to say, "What can we do about this?" Or even if this is a problem. So we called a conference together early 1999, where we invited about 150 people to attend from all across the country. As far away as Arizona and they came to discuss this issue. We set out and recorded and everything that the folks had to say. And report of proceedings, which is still available for review on our responder safety website, was a basis for a survey in which we sent out 500 survey instruments to select people around the country. As a result of that, we put together a document called Protecting Our Emergency Responders on the Highway that was penned over Halloween weekend of 1999 at the National Fire Academy in Emmetsburg, Maryland with a group of about 25 content experts. That set us on track to develop a plan, to make the roadway safer, not only for responders, but for everyone that is in and around a highway incident.

Rod Ammon: That's a great background. Thank you, Steve. Jack, so how did you get started in this responder safety effort? And then tell us how you met Steve during that journey.

Jack Sullivan: Well much like Steve's story mine starts out with an incident that caused a tragedy. Members of the Lionville Fire Company responded to a motor vehicle crash in the westbound lane to the turnpike near the Downingtown Interchange in March of 1998. And while they were working at that incident scene, a tractor trailer, traveling westbound on the turnpike, lost control and rolled over and scraped through the incident scene striking 10 of the emergency personnel that were on scene at the time. Eight firefighters and two EMTs, the eight firefighters from Lionville Fire Company, all sustained serious injuries and firefighter Dave Good passed away as a result of his injuries. Two of the other responders were EMT's from the Uwchlan Ambulance Corp, they also had serious injuries. And all told with the 10 people who were involved, that caught a lot of folks' attention.

And I was out of the area at the time. I was not involved with that incident, but when I retired from Lionville Fire Company, I was a Lieutenant and the fire department safety officer. And I remember communicating with the current officers at the time and offering, you do a little bit of research to see if there was anything that Lionville could do at the time to improve their response to incidents on the turnpike so that we didn't have a recurrence of some sort. And that crash occurred in March of 1998. And I started doing some research almost immediately. That led to a number of training presentations that I did in Virginia, where I was living at the time and somewhere around October of 1999 or shortly after that meeting, that Steve just described that he had at the Fire Academy. There was an article about that meeting and the resulting white paper that came out of it in a magazine called Pennsylvania Farm.

And I happened to see that article, read what they were doing and went, "Wow, this is exactly what we're talking about." I didn't know who Steve Austin was. I didn't know who the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman Association was. But I did a little bit of research, found the phone number for Steve, reached out to him, sent him an email, said, this is who I am and what I'm doing. And you guys sound like you're doing the same thing, we ought to get together. And we'd been working together ever since.

Steve Austin: We also put together at that at around the same time, an informal Institute called the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, which is just a committee of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman Association but it includes some of the most brightest and best folks all across the public safety community that had background at that time were expressing interest in this problem of what we now call struck-bys, which are when an adverse vehicle secondary incident strikes a responder on the roadway.

Rod Ammon: With the learning network ,that started about a decade ago, following responder safety. You want to talk about how that got started and what were the goals?

Steve Austin: It was, it was actually based on the fact that of Jack's popularity. I mean, there was only one Jack, and although we had other people helping us to teach and they were good presenters. But Jack got into such great demand that we just couldn't reach in direct delivery, the numbers of people that we'd like to reach.

And we came upon this idea about online learning. And again, we're talking about things that we all take for granted today. And particularly with the fact that we're doing so much online learning because of the pandemic, but back in the beginnings of this, online learning really was not out there like it is today. And it was not well accepted. If accepted at all in the fire service, but we were very well poised to be able to do that and it would not have happened, frankly, if we had not had the opportunity to be the recipient of several of the fire prevention and firefighter safety grants that we've gotten over the years to allow us to build this community. And once we got out there, we saw that the people were really interested in this topic. And so we created content that Jack will talk about.

Jack Sullivan: Well, I think the big thing is that we were not the first ones out of the box with the content so much, but we did help to spread the word to a wider audience. And I don't think it would be appropriate to talk about this subject without mentioning Ron Moore and his efforts back around 1998, 1999, 2000 to bring the subject of roadway, incident safety to the forefront and pass along his knowledge on that subject, which he shared willingly with us at the time when we were seeking information, Steve Wiseman up in Fairfax was another good example.

They had both of those departments, Plano, Texas, and Fairfax County had experience with emergency vehicles being struck by other vehicles at incident scenes and had taken steps to create standard operating procedures and trainings for their personnel. But what they were doing was not widespread across the country. It wasn't covered in NFPA standards. It wasn't in any of the basic firefighter training curriculums that were nationwide at the time. And we were looking to share the information. With the internet growing in popularity, we decided to try and take some of the lessons that we had learned the hard way and share them with other people and other fire departments specifically at that time, so that they could change their operations. And over the years we've taken that message and expanded it to all disciplines, law enforcement, emergency medical services, DOT and safety service patrols, the telling them recovery industry, we're all in the same boat and we're all responding to the same type of incidents. And we found out that one way to get to everybody was through the power of the internet and the learning network.

Rod Ammon: Well, I think both of you gentlemen are pretty modest because you've done a pretty incredible job. Over the past year. I had to pull a statistic up earlier about what's going on over at learningrespondersafety.com. And, and over the past year, 143,000 users came in for 319,000 sessions. And they averaged about 20 minutes a piece. Those are some pretty big numbers. There was over a 34% increase across the network last year. And I think you're now over 81,000 registered users. So congratulations on that. So let's turn our attention to this podcast, cause this is sort of like the kickoff podcast for responder safety, not "sort of like" it is the kickoff podcast. And the idea came from us wanting to showcase some of the innovative and successful things in responder safety that you have both seen during extensive travels and all of your contacts. What do you hope this podcast achieves?

Steve Austin: No, this is a podcast or a hot topic now. Folks like him, we know a lot of people in the fire service, public safety listen to him. We want to be there. We want to be able to give them good information on this lifesaving information on this very dangerous topic. We want to tell them what's out there and what's being done. And we want them to become more familiar with the resources that we have available for them at the respondersafety.com website and the Responder Safety Learning Network.

Jack Sullivan: Yeah, I think Rod, one of the things that I've spent years working on in the emergency management field is what we refer to as continuity of operations. And I'm not a young spring chicken anymore, by any means. And I guess what I'm hoping to do through the respondersafety.com website, the Responder Safety Learning Network, these podcasts, and anything else that we can come up with in the way of social media posts and things like that, is to find a way to preserve and expand the reach of this information, to get it to as many people as we possibly can.

Rod Ammon: Understood. I just want to say thanks to both of you and be safe out there and I know we'll be talking as the days, move on. Be well, Jack, be well, Steve.

Steve Austin: Thanks a lot.

Jack Sullivan: Talk to you again soon.

Rod Ammon: So I want to bring in Bob Bemis to talk about his experience of being struck while operating on the roadway. Bob's a retired Pennsylvania State Police Sergeant who works in law enforcement training. In 2015, he was struck while assisting a motorist on interstate 81. He sustained critical injuries. Bob, we're very grateful to have you with us here today.

Bob Bemis: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Rod Ammon: So why don't you start out, tell us about what happened to you.

Bob Bemis: What the official crash report says is that there was a motorist from Kentucky who was driving a 1993 Cadillac. He was towing a trailer, on the back of the trailer was a Volvo station wagon. He was traveling South on interstate 81 when the right rear tire of the Cadillac exploded. He pulled the vehicle off to the side of the road, and when he came to a stop, the right rear tire then caught fire. Approximately two minutes later, I stopped my vehicle, my unmarked state police vehicle on the burn behind the trailer that was carrying the Volvo. The evidence says that I got the fire extinguisher from the trunk of my car and was actually walking along the guide rail with the disabled vehicles operator when my lights went out. Fire was actually getting out into the roadway and several vehicles that were approaching the scene began to hit their brakes and performance steering maneuvers to avoid running into one another.

An SUV driven by a woman from Norfolk, Virginia, actually steered to avoid colliding with another vehicle and she lost control. Struggled off the roadway, she struck a guide, rail continued along the burn and then struck the back end of my unmarked police car. My car then went forward and hit both myself and the disabled vehicles operator. My body landed face down on the ground, partially underneath the guide rail, partially underneath the trailer. Both of the officers that observed the crash take place immediately stopped the vehicle and came to my aid. And both of those officers and an arriving trooper from the Frackville barracks actually saved my life. While one of them was attending to me, the other two fought to keep the flames from reaching me. And, again, all three of them saved my life that day. I actually have a rod that goes from my hip, I mean the entire length of the femur, there's metal. I have a lot fun at airports.

Rod Ammon: Oh yeah. I guess I bet you do. Whoa. Well, yeah, again, and thanks to those officers and thanks for you being with us here today. We're glad for that. You've been talking about this incident from what I understand openly for quite some time. And you've been through what I think a lot of first responders are concerned about when they're working on the roadway, what's your message that you developed after this.

Bob Bemis: There are several teachable moments and I'm not ashamed to say that I had wished that I had paid a little bit more attention to some of the traffic safety awareness training that I had received as a member of the state police. And it's very ironic that in my capacity, as an instructor at the academy that I had actually taught the class myself many, many times several years before this and my amnesia prevents me from actually being able to understand why I didn't do a lot of the things that I had actually trained others to do at the time. I can only conclude that the urgency of fighting a fire guided my hasty response, but a lot of what I do now is dedicating myself to raising awareness to the dangers that are on our highways to explaining the importance of proper scene set up of quick clearance of those things. Vehicle positioning is critical and I can only hope that others can learn from my example in what not to do quite frankly, at an emergency scene.

Rod Ammon: You know, grateful for that. And very much grateful about the way that you're, again, openly discussing this. I'm wondering, why don't you share with us a little bit more detail about what you think could prevent future incidents? I'm sure you've thought about this and for what the lessons learned were from your experience. How can we prevent struck-bys like this?

Bob Bemis: Well, there's a couple of things. I mean, obviously there are two sides to this coin, as they say. The first side is on the public safety responders part of this. And in that arena, the critical importance is just education. Is training all of our first responders these techniques, these tactics, and emphasizing the fact that these tactics are just as critical as anything else that's you have out there with regard to safety. Obviously I live in the law enforcement world, and so our greatest concern when we're on the motoring highway is not only the dangers of passing traffic, but also the dangers of the occupants of the vehicle. And what could happen for any lapse in judgment or awareness on both of those sides?

You know? With my friends in the fire service or any of the other services, it's certainly forcing yourself to frequently break away from whatever task you were assigned to, to monitor that passing traffic. Because that is just as much a danger to safety as whatever it is that you're focused on. So that's the public safety side. The other side of this coin absolutely comes down to educating the public as to what their obligations are when approaching an emergency incident. Though, the first and foremost is obviously reduced speed and, move over if it's entirely possible to move over. That's critical, that they do their part to keep the roadway safe for those first responders. The other, obviously the other education initiative that we need to launch is really driving home, the importance of avoiding distractions within the vehicle. Far too often, motorists unfortunately only focus on what's important to them within the security and safety of their own vehicle and not necessarily concerning themselves with what's going on outside the vehicle. And that's the part that can change someone else's life or their own for that matter.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. So when you, and again, I know you're going based on evidence and other things or observations from the incident, but when you think about what you heard about how your vehicle was parked and the distance from the person's car that you were assisting. Things there that you'd to talk about?

Bob Bemis: Absolutely. The important thing, again, my amnesia prevents me from knowing why I didn't even do some of the most basic things such as putting flares out or putting sufficient cushion of air between my vehicle and the vehicles that I was assisting. Those are the things that I would recommend that other first responders pay attention to take a few seconds, just a few seconds to make sure that their vehicle position is such, that it offers some protection for everyone. Should something happen to necessitate the need for protecting those individuals. I also speak to, not unnecessarily standing in those danger zones, making sure that all persons who don't need to be on the roadway itself, move themselves off the roadway over the guide rail and to a position of safety where they have the opportunity to react.

One of the other things that I train absolutely is the value of pre-planning an escape route. I regularly ask people who attend my trainings and lectures. I regularly ask them how many people in that classroom have ever heard the sound of tires sliding on pavement and almost to a person. I have every hand in the air, because that is a sound that unfortunately we are all very familiar with and have heard many, many times when we're out on those highways. And the first reaction, whenever hearing that sound is to look toward the sound. What I train is, by then the ability to respond has probably passed because they're wasting time booking and the speed of those vehicles traveling into that scene are so great that they may not have a chance to react appropriately. So I explain that when you hear that sound run to your pre-planned escape route, don't look at what's coming because you know what that sound means. And so, again, I can't say that that would have helped me, but it might help them.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. I'm thinking about the scene and once you described it, it got a whole lot more visual for me. and I see you out in front of this, in front of your vehicle, sort of shoulder side with a fire extinguisher. And, I doubt that a high vis vest would've done much at that point for somebody to see considering all the other things that were going on. But there often seems to be a hesitancy for law enforcement to wear high vis vest. Can you comment on that?

Bob Bemis: Yes. Well, and again, to my personal experience, I was actually wearing a suit. I wasn't even in a uniform. And so there was no opportunity for me to don a high vis vest, but yes, you're absolutely correct. In a lot of times on the law enforcement side of things, basically the instinct is to try to avoid being visible because of the nature of what we do. Sometimes we rely a little bit more on being in a low profile mode or a stealth mode, if you will, to avoid being observed by, for lack of a better word, criminals. However, the highway is a completely different arena, and there the normal day-to-day requirements of what we do out there definitely lends us to having to have that high visibility, being seen. And I would tell all of my officers "Don't be so concerned about being in a stealth mode. They're there you want to be seen." So wear that high visibility equipment as much as you can, because it's just a completely different assignment than say a criminal investigation.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. Do you think there's progress being made in the minds of some of the officers that, when they're in the roadway senior, is it getting to be automatic for them out on the highway?

Bob Bemis: I'd like to say it is, I'd like to have hope that people are changing their minds a little bit when it comes to wearing that type of equipment or being more visible, or thinking in with a greater degree of awareness of everything. I'd like to say that, I'd like- to say that they're following the examples of so many first responders who have been struck. And I would like to say that, but unfortunately that's not always the case. Unfortunately, the training that is being delivered is focusing on more about the dangers of the occupants of a vehicle, as opposed to the dangers of that passing traffic. And as I said, both of those can equally change your life.

Rod Ammon: Well, so I'm going to take from that, we're making slow progress, but what do you think we're doing well? And what do you think we could do better?

Bob Bemis: We can focus our efforts more on properly setting up that emergency scene on the highway. We can definitely focus more on inter agency communication. That's a problem, I think that is still taking place across the board where the disciplines don't necessarily speak with one another. They don't necessarily have an open line of communication and they don't necessarily conduct regular after action reports in debriefings, where they can essentially break down what took place on one of these scenes, of the emergency and potentially discuss opportunities to make improvements. That's something that I've... I have over 30 years of law enforcement experience, and that's something that, that I have seen time and again. Is that the various public safety services don't work with one another very well. They tend to stay within their own discipline and they don't share information and they definitely don't take the opportunity to have those after action debriefings. I would hope that we would want to look more toward their doing a lot more of that.

Rod Ammon: There's a name for a type of committee. I thought it was a TIM committee, but basically where they get together with all the different disciplines and they do exactly what you're talking about. And I'm hearing about that activity more and more. So maybe we'll look at that as a positive change.

Bob Bemis: I think there are a lot of positive things that are coming in now down the pipe. Obviously in Pennsylvania here, within the last several months, we increased our legislation or enhanced our legislation for the slow down, move over initiative. Increasing the penalties for violations of that. And, certainly refining the language so that it makes it easier for motorists to understand what their obligations are. So, it's not we're completely ignoring the national increase in struck by incidence, but it's just going to take a lot of effort on everyone's part.

Rod Ammon: Including the public, getting that awareness out to them. I know that in Pennsylvania, frankly, I see a lot going on and with Todd Leiss and Penn Time, and with what's going on, they're working on new messages and as you say, stronger laws for slow down, move over. It's good to see.

Bob Bemis: Yeah, Todd Leiss is a fantastic champion of this entire initiative. And he is one of the hardest working men that I have ever seen dedicated to this effort. And I'm happy to happy to know that guy.

Rod Ammon: Yeah, me too. I can't stop reading everything that he keeps posting and all the messages that he's getting out there in the meetings that he's holding together. So, yeah big thanks to him. I'm thinking about this motivation issue. How do you feel that we better motivate people to be passionate about their own safety? Especially responders who are people who are... They react to incidents. They put themselves in harm's way very often. How do we get them more passionate about caring for themselves on the road and taking that time, as you said, to set up the incident scene better?

Bob Bemis: Well, I guess the easiest way to reach those individuals is just say one word, family. , Families suffer the brunt of these mishaps just as much as the responders who were actually injured or even killed for that matter. The families are the ones who have to pick up the pieces when something bad happens. My family endured and still to this day, six years later, it has endured the fallout from that one moment in my entire career. And that's where you really need... That's all the motivation you need is if you can, if you can put the faces of those family members in front of that individual and say, "Listen, you may not be taking this seriously, but understand that these people are the ones that are going to have to bear the brunt of the decisions that you make. And they're also going to, they may not receive the physical injury, but they're also going to be witness to the result of not paying attention, of not taking it seriously. We need to be regularly reminded why that's important.

Rod Ammon: Well, I appreciate you being with us here today. I know the folks from Emergency Responders Safety Institute do as well. And especially being open about your experience and sharing that. So I don't know what else to say. Thank you and hope you, and all the people you're working with take care of themselves and you take care of all of your colleagues and be well, thank you again for your time.

Bob Bemis: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. And best of luck to everyone out there and, continue to stay safe.

Rod Ammon: Okay, Bob be well, and thanks again.

Bob Bemis: Okay.

Rod Ammon: Our goal for this year is to release six podcasts. So that's one about every six to eight weeks. Our second episode will be available a little after a month. You won't want to miss Chief Billy Goldfeder and members of the Loveland, Symmes, Ohio fire department, talking about their emergency services unit. Thanks for joining us today on this podcast, stay safe. We'll see you next time for respondersafety.com. We've got your back. I'm Rod Ammon.