Graafschap Fire Department takes precautions at emergency scenes, but drivers need to be alert

Viral video highlights the importance of safety procedures at emergency situations.
Graafschap Fire Department’s information sign is a key safety feature at emergency scenes.

A deputy’s body camera caught the moment a person drove their car up a flat-bed tow truck in Georgia to take flight a la “Dukes of Hazzard.” The internet showed everybody what happens when someone doesn’t heed the warnings at a crash scene. The driver was hurt and a nearby deputy was injured by flying debris.

“These are the kind of dangers we deal with on a daily basis,” said Graafschap Fire Chief Doug DenBleyker after seeing the viral video, noting that firefighters and emergency responders are vulnerable at crash scenes whether on the expressway or local roads.

“Motorists have many things that distract them including mobile phones. Drivers are less patient and are in a hurry,” he said. “We have many close calls, witnessed accidents happen near us while we are working a scene, but thankfully no one has been injured at an accident scene.”

Avoiding another crash

To help motorists avoid creating another emergency at an already active crash site, Graafschap firefighters and responders are trained in the Traffic Incident Management System. This is a partnership between agencies, including the Michigan Department of Transportation, state and local law enforcement, fire, EMS, local road agencies and towing services, who work together to safely and efficiently clear traffic incidents from Michigan’s roads.

On the scene, local crews can use a large digital sign, about 8 feet by 11 feet, that can display multiple messages or give directions to traveling motorists. The sign can be placed in advance of the crash site to give motorists time to slow down and shift lanes. The sign was used this winter to warn traffic that M-40 was closed due to snow and ice.

The sign is a collaborative project between Holland and Graafschap Fire Departments with financial partners including MIOSHA, Allegan County Emergency Management, K&R Towing, Reliable Towing and PVT Trucking.

Graafschap also uses cones, directional arrows on the rear of emergency vehicles and green LED lights that grab driver attention especially in lower visibility conditions such as snowstorms, DenBleyker said. Emergency workers wear reflective vests as well.

All the devices come into play during incidents on I-196 and U.S. 31.

“The highway is immensely more dangerous than local roads and streets. The highways are busier, speeds are higher, it requires more resources and is more complex to reroute traffic or close the highway if needed,” DenBleyker said.

Move Over

The best protection for everyone at an emergency scene is for drivers to stay alert and know the rules.

Michigan has a Move Over Law that requires motorists to slow down and move over for stationary emergency vehicles with their lights activated. This includes tow trucks and road maintenance vehicles.

Drivers must slow to at least 10 mph below the posted speed limit and fully move over into an open lane, according to the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.