'Do not let us down:' Bartow-Cartersville TIM meeting stresses roadside safety
by Jessica Loeding
Jan 30, 2012 | 2520 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rory Howe of the Metro Atlanta Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Task Force speaks to area emergency personnel on increasing roadside safety for responders during Friday’s Bartow-Cartersville Traffic Incident Management team meeting at the Clarence Brown Conference Center.
JESSICA LOEDING/The Daily Tribune News
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Just hours after Atlanta Police Senior Officer Gail Thomas was struck and killed by a suspected drunk driver Thursday night, the Bartow-Cartersville Traffic Incident Management team gathered for a regular meeting to discuss keeping personnel safe during roadside incidents.

Meeting Friday morning at the Clarence Brown Conference Center, representatives from Bartow County and Cartersville fire departments, Georgia State Patrol, Governor's Office of Highway Safety, EMS, Cartersville Gas Department and other area agencies heard updates on the open roads policy and move-over laws.

CFD Battalion Chief Ray King, who moderated the meeting, said the most dangerous calls emergency personnel answer are those along roadways.

King said he always questions if fellow responders are watching out for each other while working roadside incidents.

"I've always got this gut feeling -- and I know some of you guys know what I'm talking about -- that somebody let them down. ...," he said. "I always feel like on those line-of-duty deaths that someone let them down. This is teamwork, guys. We are all in this together. We do not want to let each other down.

"I'm challenging you for 2012, all the way from [CFD] to the [GOHS], ... do not let us down. ... Do not let your guys down."

Rory Howe of the Metro Atlanta Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Task Force urged local responders to consider several safety factors such as the open roads policy, emergency light management, usage of cones and reflective vests, and how to quickly and effectively manage lane closures.

Howe also covered secondary crashes occurring upstream from the accident scene.

"In years past, when I ever worked anything on any of the major state routes or [Ga.] 400, the old adage was, the old philosophy was, 'This is my roadway, I'm going to shut it down, and I'm not going to open it until I'm through doing what I'm doing.' The mentality's got to change, folks, because we're dealing with secondary crashes and we're killing folks upstream from the incident, and you don't want that," he said.

GSP Post 3 Commander Sgt. Kyle Tanner said secondary crashes often come by motorists busy rubbernecking.

"People will come up on the backup in a hurry and may be not paying attention and get into these secondary crashes. ... That goes back to that paying attention to your surroundings," Tanner said. "I say this, and I don't say it being joking or funny, but ... I worked in Atlanta for seven years, I was more worried about getting hit than I was about getting shot. That was just because, again, folks -- they either want to start looking at what you are doing and therefore, like a moth to a flame, they'll come right over there with you or they get to looking at what's going on here and aren't looking down the road and there comes a secondary [crash]. It is a big concern for us, and again, if it draws your attention, pay attention to what it is."

In 2003 Georgia instituted the Move Over Law to ensure highway safety for motorists and emergency personnel when emergency vehicles are stopped on the roadside with emergency lights activated, according to information from the GOHS. The law was created to reduce injuries and fatalities to police, paramedics, fire personnel, wrecker operators and highway maintenance workers by asking motorists to move to the next lane if safely possible and slow below the speed limit and be prepared to stop.

For Tanner -- and many emergency responders -- the biggest concern is the inability to see what may be approaching from behind.

"As either law enforcement or emergency personnel, you know if I can't pay a lot of attention behind me because I'm dealing with an incident, you know I can't see what's coming, and that's what concerns me for me and my guys and emergency personnel," he said.

The trooper suggests motorists assess the scene and prepare to take appropriate action.

"The biggest advice I can give to somebody is, if you see any kind of flashing lights, anything that draws your attention, slow down first thing, maybe assess what you see and start getting out of the way of it. If you can't get out of the way of it, get to the point where you can, as we talked about, stop if you have to because something can change so quick ... If it catches your attention, automatically let off the gas, maybe get on the brakes a little and say, 'Hey, what have I got going on here?'" Tanner said.

Motorists who fail to move over for emergency vehicles can be fined, and Tanner said those responsible for secondary crashes also will be cited.

For more information on Georgia's Move Over Law, visit www.gahighwaysafety.org.