Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Crash Responder Safety Week: This week, and every week, our crews need you help protecting roadside workers

By Celeste Dimichina

A split-second glance in the mirror – and the safety training behind it – likely saved Frank Stewart's life.

As a member of our Incident Response Team, Frank responds to all kinds of situations in a single shift. He can go from helping someone who has run out of gas to changing a spare tire to helping control traffic around a multi-vehicle crash scene – all while working next to active traffic.

So when he was called to a crash scene on State Route 14 in east Vancouver last December, Frank was already thinking how to keep himself and others safe. He parked his truck at an angle, for example, knowing it would help shield emergency workers up ahead from the passing traffic.

Despite orange flashing lights on his truck, Frank also knew to take the extra step of checking his mirrors one last time before stepping out of his vehicle. And that's when he saw a truck approaching at full speed and switching lanes. An instant later the driver struck Frank's truck and landed in a ditch. Neither Frank nor the driver were seriously injured but if Frank hadn't done one last mirror check this event could easily have ended in tragedy.

The damage to the front of our IRT truck was bad enough but if this was a worker instead of a
 vehicle this could have ended as a tragedy.

This is Crash Responder Safety Week but close calls like Frank's show why this safety message is important every day and every week of the year. As this year's Governor's proclamation reads, "the safety of all, including the traveling public and response personnel at incident scenes is of paramount concern." And that's why we need the public to stay alert any time you see flashing lights on the side of a road.

This is the second year Gov. Jay Inslee has issued a proclamation reminding all drivers about the importance of keeping all roadside responders – including transportation agency crews – safe.

Move over/Slow down whenever you see roadside flashing lights
In Washington, the Move over/Slow down law requires motorists to move over a lane or slow down as they pass emergency vehicles and other vehicles with flashing lights. While you may not think of them as emergency responders, that includes our highway maintenance crews making repairs as well IRT trucks like Frank drives. It also applies to tow trucks and utility trucks if their lights are activated.

If there is room, drivers should move over a lane as they approach these vehicles. If that's not possible then they must slow to 10 miles below the posted speed limit.

In addition to moving over to give roadside crews enough room to safely work, whenever you see flashing roadside lights please remember to:

  • Slow Down – drive the posted speeds (and 10 mph below them if unable to move over one lane)
  • Be kind – our workers are helping to keep you safe and improve the roadways
  • Pay Attention – both to workers directing you and surrounding traffic
  • Stay Calm – no meeting or appointment is worth risking someone's life

Help us keep our crews – and everyone on the road – safe
Frank has been with our agency for 27 years – 22 years in our maintenance department and five years in IRT. When he isn't working, Frank enjoys finding, collecting and refurbishing old Coleman lanterns. The lanterns are just another way he stays prepared for any sort of emergency.

Frank Stewart places traffic cones out along the roadway as one of several safety precautions to
 protect our maintenance crews doing road repairs.

We ask everyone to please remember folks like Frank and the dangers they face every day as they work along our roads and highways.

Doing your part to be as safe as possible when you enter a work zone or emergency response scene ensures everyone -- you, your passengers, surrounding travelers and our crews – make it back home safe every day.