Monday, December 16, 2019

There’s never a dull moment for our IRT team

By Angie Millar

Josh Stuckey has seen a lot and done a lot. That will happen when your workday involves driving up and down the I-5 corridor from downtown Seattle to Shoreline. Josh, a member of our Incident Response Team, might be helping a stranded driver change a tire one minute, then may race to the scene of a major collision the next.

It's a normal day-in-the-life for our highway super heroes.

Josh, a former Skagit County firefighter, joined our agency as a maintenance worker before shifting to IRT about eight years ago, saying being a first responder was always his main interest. And that's just what he does with IRT.

Our response team is typically among the first people on scene of a highway incident. That could be as simple as helping a driver who is out of gas, or it could be coordinating with Washington State Patrol and other aid groups to safely handle a large crash. It's not a job for the timid as our team regularly works near live traffic.

"Once you're out of your car on the freeway, it's a very hostile environment," he said. "We're the first on scene for a lot of incidents. We're in the thick of it."
Left: IRT driver Josh Stuckey regularly patrols the I-5 corridor between Seattle and Shoreline helping stranded drivers. Right: Josh Stuckey and the rest of our IRT team stay in regular contact with our dispatchers as well as
Washington State Patrol as they work to help keep drivers safe on state highways.

During a recent ride along, I watched Josh help clear a disabled vehicle from the I-5 express lanes during rush hour. To get to the incident quickly, he had to go in the opposite direction on the I-5 express lanes. After coordinating with the State Patrol to stop traffic, he flipped on his Chevy truck's sirens and once on scene used the truck's rubber bumper to push the car off to the shoulder.

On average, our IRTs are able to clear an incident within 13 minutes of first being notified of the situation.

New IRT members train with experienced teammates for 2-4 months, learning first aid, traffic control, HAZMAT response and other skills. They spread out over many of our most-traveled state highways patrolling for incidents and staying in regular contact with our dispatch as well as State Patrol communications.

Josh has had his share of scary situations, including a standoff with an armed suspect on the SR 520 bridge. He has to compartmentalize to focus on helping people and clearing the roads and said that he doesn't let himself think about work at home, which helps manage any dangerous situations he's been in.

"We've got guys out here involved in deep stuff," he said. "We're immersed in this world that no one sees. I love this program so much."

While a lot of what our IRT members learn comes from being on the job, there are some things we look for. So if you're interested in joining that team, it will help if you:
  • Have a commercial vehicle driver's license
  • Familiarize yourself with our maintenance work and processes to help you assess condition of our infrastructure after crashes and know what has to be fixed
  • Are super safety focused, for yourself, other responders and the public
  • Experience operating a tow truck
  • Calm in high pressure situations
  • Comfortable communicating with the public as you are often the first person from our agency they will be dealing with, often in stressful situations.
We're always thankful to Josh and all of our IRT and maintenance group for the fantastic work they do helping everyone stay safe on the highways. Be sure to help them out by staying alert and focused behind the wheel, follow their directions if they're trying to help you out and slow down and give them space if you see them on the highways assisting other drivers.