Bradley County Fire-Rescue first responders have been tagged as the only fire first response agency to have 100 percent participation and certification in a new initiative designed to clear crash scenes quicker.
Bob Van Horn of the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Lt. John Harmon of the Tennessee Highway Patrol presented a program to the firefighters aimed at managing crash scenes more effectively, which will ultimately lead to getting things back to normal after an incident occurs.
Harmon and Van Horn said roadways, interstates and highways, all typically heavily traveled, can be shut down for hours during major incidents.
TDOT and THP officials have studied the problem that halts traffic along major routes. That became evident Tuesday afternoon after a law enforcement pursuit ended in an off-roadway crash, then a secondary crash occurred approximately 30 minutes later as traffic on Interstate 75 north began backing up.
“For example … at one scene on the interstate,” said Harmon, “a doctor was on his way to perform a critical procedure at a hospital in Alabama. He had a schedule to keep. A crash had shut the roadway down and he was one [of many travelers] caught in the middle between the site of the scene and the previous exit.”
Traffic is typically diverted around a scene to keep travelers moving, but most of the time, there are some drivers “caught in the middle.”
“We made accommodations to the doctor and got him through the scene … well, why can’t we do that with the other travelers ‘caught in the middle?” Harmon questioned.
Assessment is the second step of the process for a first responder.
The first step is getting to the site and aiding patient care, if injuries are reported, according to BCFR Chief Troy Maney.
As responders from law enforcement, medical and fire begin to arrive, they typically have a good bearing on what has occurred and what needs are to be addressed.
Traffic is usually at a standstill.
“Take what you need to keep your scene safe and secure for everyone there,” Harmon said.
After arriving on the scene, assessment begins.
“Is it a ‘major’ incident, ‘intermediate’ or ‘minor’ classification?” Harmon asked.
A major incident could tie traffic for hours whereas a minor incident could be cleared in minutes.
Early communication through responders is expected to set the tone for incident command and resolution.
Tuesday’s crash elevated from intermediate to major as a medical helicopter was landed at the scene to transport the driver of one of the vehicles involved.
After the assessment is made and scene work progresses, officials are planning on getting traffic flow back to normal as quickly as possible.
“This will reduce secondary crashes, traffic backups and reduce driver frustration,” Harmon said.
“Take what you need and then we will work together to get everyone moving again,” Harmon told the firefighters and responders.
Harmon said if the incident is minor, then drivers should note particulars and move vehicles from the roadway to a safe place. Typically, 911 dispatchers will provide this instruction, according to Harmon.
“The ‘old school-way’ has been replaced for safety reasons and essentially, to get traffic flow and commerce along the major thoroughfares back to normal. If a crash occurs in the northbound lanes just north of Ooltewah, what cities north of there does it affect? It affects Cleveland, Athens and all others between Knoxville,” Harmon said.
Traffic behind the scene can be rerouted, but those in the middle of a major scene are simply stuck.
According to Van Horn, the Strategic Highway Research Program was funded by Congress, “to research ways to better operate the nation’s roads. It is comprised of four focus areas — safety, renewal, reliability and capacity.”
“Traffic Incident Management,” as the initiative is called, provides instruction to all responders to work together to use resources in a practical manner to reopen the roadways, reducing risks of secondary crashes and getting commerce flowing along the roadways.
Tuesday’s primary crash at mile marker 36, was a possible contributing factor to the secondary crash just north of Exit 33. The driver of the car was identified as Chardai McGown, 57, of Knoxville. She was charged with DUI, drug and other charges after allegedly recklessly approaching the traffic backup.
Some scenarios will tie traffic. Most shouldn’t, according to Harmon.
“Our goal is to get people to where they are going. Tennessee’s travel system has become very congested and we realize people are headed to destinations for a reason — they are doctors, truck drivers making crucial deliveries of goods, or families going on vacation,” Harmon said.
“We intend to work in a structurally safe and quick manner with the cooperation of all responders, including TDOT Help trucks, to get our travelers moving,” he added.
Bradley County Sheriff’s deputies area also involved in the TIMs initiative.
Bradley County deputies diverted traffic off the interstate and into the city of Charleston, which also became congested as travelers made their way onto Highway 11.
Capt. W.G. Campbell said Traffic Unit deputies always attempt to clear crash scenes in an efficient and timely manner.