Safety on the roads remains a concern for first responders

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - First responders put their lives on the line every day, but their lives are especially in jeopardy when responding to car accidents.

Crashes typically account for the second highest share of the deaths among firefighters each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Police, fire fighters, EMTs are the first to arrive when we need them in an emergency, but often when it comes to their safety, it's out of the public's mind.

"We've had a lot of close calls," said Roanoke Fire-EMS Chief Billy Altman.

Close calls that Altman said are never taken lightly and often serve as a reminder of how dangerous their jobs can be.

The fallen firefighter memorial in front of the Virginia Museum of Transportation bears the name of local firefighters killed in the line of duty. Among those are two firefighters, Robert Cassell and Harvey Helm, who lost their lives unnecessarily in the fall of 1985, when they were hit by a drunk driver while responding to a vehicle fire in the city of Roanoke.

Chief David Hoback and Deputy Chief Altman were one of the first on scene.

"Two of our firefighters and a civilian were killed," Hoback said. "The driver of the car was not paying a bit of attention, had a high rate-of-speed, just literally ran over two of our firefighters, one was a captain, one was a firefighter and a civilian," Hoback recalled. "Killed them instantly on the scene. Horrible, horrible, tragedy. It was all avoidable."

"When you start picking up your own firefighters, that leaves a mark that you won't forget," Altman said.

Despite Move Over laws going into effect last year, Roanoke City firefighters said distracted driving continues to put their lives at risk while responding to calls.

"It happens all of the time, we'll be on a wreck, you'll hear tires squealing, you look around and it's another moron not paying attention to what they are doing."

Now, the fire department is taking part in a national campaign to promote awareness about the issue.

A PSA from respondersafety.com is being shared by many local departments, urging drivers to pay attention and help save the lives of those who risk theirs every day to keep the public safe.

For more information and shareable videos to remind the public about protecting first responders, VDOT workers, public works and construction crews on the roadway, click here.

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