HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Firefighters are echoing the call to slow down and move over — because despite the Move Over Law, first responders are still facing close calls while on the side of the road.
Multiple Henrico Fire and EMS vehicles have been hit by other vehicles this year while responding to emergencies on the side of the road — and one accident was as recent as last month.
Henrico County Division Fire Chief Alec Oughton said he is relieved that no one in his crew has lost their lives.
“I lose sleep every time,” Oughton said. “I think about it every time one of our units goes out on the interstate and I worry about the men and women that serve this community — and worry about whether people are going to pay attention.”
Fire Chief Alec Oughton talks about emergency vehicles that have been struck in the Henrico fleet
Chief Oughton said that yet another Henrico Fire engine was hit by a box truck on I-295 while responding to a tractor trailer fire on August 14th. This follows the Henrico Fire engine that was hit in January while responding to a motor vehicle crash on I-95.
“We’re reminded of how fragile lives are and how risky working on the interstate is,” Chief Oughton added. “The interstate is a completely different story. We don’t get the opportunity to reach out and train drivers or talk to them about the importance of reading what’s going around you on the interstate.”
But he says that they are trained for incidents that are predictable, stating that fires are more foreseeable than a driver not paying attention to the road ahead. He says that hazards like wet roads and driver errors like failure to obey the speed limit and texting while driving are large factors in emergency vehicle accidents.
“The best way to prevent people from having to even exercise the move-over-law is don’t get involved in an accident in the first place.”Fire Chief Alec Oughton
He said that it is not just fire and EMS crews that are endangered; listing tow-truck drivers, VDOT and motorist road services as other lines of work that experience terrifying accidents.
“… amber, red or blue lights indicate that something is out the ordinary… slow down, move over and there is no incident to report,” Chief Oughton said. “You give them a margin of safety. You see them operating – give them space so they can work and not put their lives at risk.”
Mike Sullivan, a Henrico County Firefighter for over 15 years, was inside the firetruck that was hit last month and says he didn’t have time to brace for the collision.
“I didn’t know that it was coming. My captain was driving me at the time. He blurted out, ‘we’re gonna hit,’ and I looked over and said ‘what?‘ And it happened just like that,” Sullivan said. “And we both checked to make sure we were okay, and our concern immediately went to the driver of the box truck which kept going down into the woods.”
Sullivan said the accident happened so fast that he could not think through what was happening at the time.
He says he texted his wife as soon as he could to let her know that he was okay.
“When she first read that, her heart dropped,” Sullivan said. “Because she realized that this is a dangerous occupation.”
And he says that incidents like these are far too common, and he was one of the lucky ones.
“Unless the public helps us by slowing down, moving over and paying attention, I’m not sure what it’s going to take to change,” Sullivan said.
But he still puts on his uniform and gets into the fire engine every day because he knows that this is the responsibility of his job.
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