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Experts stress safety as priority at the scene of an accident

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Members of the I79/I76 response team set up an accident scene incorrectly to help train the team to safely set up accident scene's at the Cranberry Public Works Operation Building, Wednesday.

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By Shawn Annarelli
Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The first priority of firefighters, fire police and police officers at the scene of a car accident is safety, and safety experts said they would like passing motorists to have the same concern.

That was a recurring theme as 32 representatives of fire departments and law enforcement units in PennDOT District 10 underwent accident-response training Wednesday.

“People that don't pay attention are our biggest safety risk,” said Cranberry fire police Officer Charles Straessley Jr.

Some motorists show a disregard for safety by speeding past car accidents.

“The biggest problem is motorists, especially on the interstate,” said Harmony fire Chief Neal Nanna.

“Public perception is that when they see the red and white lights on fire trucks it doesn't mean anything until they see the red and blue lights on a police car, because a fireman can't write you a ticket,” he said.

Other motorists become distracted by the sight of a car accident.

“Don't pay attention to the crash, the shiny trucks or the blinking lights,” said police Sgt. Tim Amrhein of Jackson County.

Amrhein also said motorists should take precautions as they approach a car accident.

“Put down your phone, turn off the radio and pay attention to what is going on ahead of you,” he said. “It's more helpful to us and safer for motorists when they make eye contact with a fireman or a police officer that's trying to give them directions.”

During the training session, first responders discussed ways to make car accident scenes safer for victims, themselves and motorists.

“The purpose for these guys (Wednesday) was to see how they can provide more information to other motorists sooner so that they can slow down before causing another wreck,” said transportation planner Doug Smith of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission.

One way to help prevent secondary accidents is for first responders to set up emergency signs and cones ahead of the scene of each car accident.

These can be put just 100 feet away on low-speed urban roads or up to 1,000 feet away on highways.

“Every accident scene is a little bit different, so every set up for us is going to be a little bit different, too,” said Franklin Park firefighter Bill Miller.

Emphasis also was placed on resolving every accident scene quickly to prevent other accidents.

“For every minute that people are on scene the potential for a secondary crash goes up three percent,” Smith said.

Properly setting up the scene of a motor vehicle accident can help prevent secondary accidents, safety officials said.

It's also important to get the word out to approaching motorists.

“One thing we've tried to do is to get some public safety announcements out,” Smith said.

Videos about move-over laws, which require that motorists switch lanes to help protect first responders, have been sent to local TV stations.

Educating motorists online is another possibility.

“This program is still in its infancy, and eventually I think that we'll have an online presence,” Smith said.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media

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