By Bill Knight
Kansas highway workers, law enforcement, fire and EMS workers face danger every day on the roads.
On a cold icy night a few years back, the dangers of working on a busy roadway came all too close-to-home for me. The volunteer fire department I am a member of was called to an injury accident just outside the entrance to a facility in the county. A passenger vehicle had failed to negotiate a right angle turn into the facility and had struck a semi truck and trailer that was leaving. The car impacted the truck and a small amount of diesel was leaking onto the roadway. No one was injured; however, the spilling fuel, the extremely slick road conditions and a large amount of traffic moving in and out of the facility at a shift change created a very dangerous situation.
We assisted the Sheriff’s Department with traffic control. The scene was very well lit by work lights and street lights near the intersection, and we were in full gear with flashlights or traffic wands to be easily seen. Once the shift change traffic began to slow, work began to move the damaged vehicles from the roadway—not an easy task that turned with the icy roadway.
I was standing on the road holding groups of cars while another firefighter would release oncoming groups on the one open lane of traffic. The group I was holding had just cleared my location so I stepped back into the roadway to stop a vehicle that was about a mile up the road. After a few seconds it became very evident that the oncoming car was moving at a quick pace so I began to wave the lighted traffic wand to direct them to stop.
A very close call
The car appeared at first to obey the warning to stop, then began to move into the left hand lane to go around me. I headed for the side of the road - helmet going in one direction, flashlight in another. With the ice making standing, let alone running, nearly impossible, I spun a few pirouettes that would have made any ballerina proud. Was it a close call? Her passenger side mirror hit the traffic wand in my hand!
The individual in the vehicle drove past me, through the accident scene, around a tow truck, past a deputy that tried to stop her, past the other firefighter on the other side of the accident and stopped only after arriving at the security gate before the parking lot of the business. The deputy that had witnessed the entire scene ran to the gate and asked security to hold the driver.
The vehicle was occupied by a single, middle aged woman, who, upon questioning by the deputy, said she saw the accident, understood we were trying to get her to stop. However, as she put it, she had been warned by her supervisor earlier in the week about her being late for work, and that she faced “getting in trouble” if she was late again.
Granted, as a firefighter, I don’t have cause to work on an open road way on a daily basis as law enforcement and state highway workers do. But I can assure you that the simple act of slowing down and moving to the left to allow those who are working on a road you are driving on really makes a difference. These individuals have a tough, dangerous job. Anything we can do as drivers to make it safer for them is incredibly important to them and to their families.
Bill Knight is the Fire Chief in Holcomb