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Virginia Tech spearheading research to save the lives of first responders at car crashes

One first responder dies every other week while at the scene of a roadside crash

One first responder dies every other week while at the scene of a roadside crash.

NEW RIVER VALLEY, Va. – Christiansburg Fire Capt. Brandon Turner is a third-generation firefighter, “It’s just kind of family tradition.”

Every day, he puts his life at risk to save others, especially at the scene of a crash.

In the back of his mind, he’s thinking about his wife Kate and his 7-month-old baby boy Brice.

Back in December, he witnessed a close call at the scene of a crash along Interstate 81 when an approaching truck lost control on the icy road and hit a first responder’s car.

“Our guys were right there within arms reach of the crash,” said Turner.

He said that vehicle crashes make up a majority of the department’s calls.

First responders put themselves in danger when they respond to a crash, particularly if drivers are distracted or don’t slow down.

New automated driving technology adds a whole other realm of questions and concerns.

“We know that advanced driver assistant systems and automated driving systems have the potential to make the roadway safer for all users, but there’s a lot of misunderstanding that exists around these technologies and how they’ll work when they’re out on the roadway,” said Dr. Tammy Trimble with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

She’s a senior research associate and has been looking at how those vehicles may interact with first responders.

“Law enforcement, fire and rescue, crash re-constructionists, tow truck drivers,” said Trimble. “All of those people who are out there first on the scene.”

She’s creating recommendations for a curriculum she hopes will be available nationwide in 2022 to teach first responders how the technology works and how to respond. But it’s not just research for Trimble, it’s life-saving work.

She said research shows that one first responder dies every other week while responding to a roadside crash.

“When I was a young child, my dad was a volunteer firefighter. And I have a close family friend who’s a full-time paramedic,” said Trimble. “So working to make sure that first responders are safe is very important.”

This week is Crash Responder Safety Week, an initiative to teach first responders and drivers about crash safety.

By law, drivers in Virginia are required to slow down and move over for any flashing red, blue or amber lights.


About the Author:

Lindsey joined the WSLS 10 team as a reporter in February 2019 and is thrilled to call Roanoke her new home!