Beltway Near-Miss, Again, Avoided by Barrier Protection

MEDIA CONTACT: Mark E. Brady, Chief Spokesperson, 240-508-7930

For the second time within a month, a piece of fire apparatus was struck by a motorist while operating on the scene of a motor vehicle crash on a high speed, limited access, highway.  On August 18, an engine from the Branchville Fire/EMS Station was on the scene of a Capital Beltway crash providing "barrier protection" for emergency personnel and civilians when they were struck.  Barrier protection equates to a large piece of fire apparatus, normally a fire engine that carries hose, water and personnel, acting as a shield to oncoming traffic protecting firefighters, medics, police officers and civilians while operating on a roadway.  The emergency lights and other items such as road flares are used to attract the attention of oncoming traffic of the hazard in front of them.  In many cases, including the two recent events in Prince George's County, barrier protection has saved lives.

Early Saturday morning, at around 2:45 am, Fire/EMS units from Greenbelt, West Lanham Hills and Berwyn Heights were tending to a motor vehicle crash on the inner loop of the Capital Beltway between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (Route 295) and the Annapolis Road (Route 450) interchanges.  Engine 835 had positioned themselves to provide barrier protection to the other units and personnel operating at the scene.  A 2005 Lexus traveling on the Beltways inner loop showed total disregard for the warning lights and slammed into the rear and side of the Greenbelt engine.  Fortunately, no one was on-board the stationery unit and no firefighters were injured.  If the Greenbelt engine had not been positioned to provide barrier protection there surely would have been serious, if not fatal injuries, to emergency personnel and civilians at the scene of the original crash scene.  The Greenbelt engine incurred significant damage and has been placed out of service.  Damage estimates are in excess of $30,000.  The civilian vehicle also sustained significant damages.  The driver of the striking vehicle was taken into custody by the Maryland State Police - College Park Barracks and was to be tested for impairment and charged with numerous traffic violations.

The close calls for firefighters on this incident were not quite over.  Some time after the vehicle struck the Greenbelt engine, another civilian vehicle approached the crash scene, oblivious to all emergency warning lights, and struck the vehicle that hit the fire engine.  This striking vehicle narrowly missed firefighters operating alongside the damaged Greenbelt engine.  To add to this drivers bad morning, they chose to flee the scene, only to be stopped by numerous law enforcement officers about 1/2 mile down the road.  This driver was also being tested for impairment and charged with numerous traffic violations.

This is the second incident in a week that both of Greenbelts fire engines have been involved in crashes and placed out of service until repaired.  Neither incident was the fault of the fire engine driver.  Last Saturday, a Greenbelt engine sustained significant damage and two firefighters sustained injuries when a vehicle failed to yield the right-of-way.  The Greenbelt Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad only have these two engines which are now damaged and unavailable for service for an extended period of time.  Greenbelt Firefighters must now rely on a reserve or borrowed fire engine until their units can be repaired.

I often hear from motorists when they question why the Fire/EMS Department blocks an extra lane or more of traffic on crash scenes.  I tell them we are saving lives.  Once again, "barrier protection" has been the difference between going to a funeral and going to the repair shop.

These images are courtesy of Jonathan D. Howard, Sr., Deputy Fire Chief, Bowie Volunteer Fire Department and PGFD Safety officer.