Edgerton offers example to other fire departments on construction zone accidents

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Jim Dayton
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

EDGERTON—Fire Chief Randy Pickering remembers when it took the Edgerton Fire Department 32 minutes to reach the scene of a traffic crash earlier this year.

A caller had provided inaccurate information about the crash location, reporting it was further north and on the opposite side of Interstate 90/39. Ongoing construction work from the Interstate expansion project made it difficult for emergency crews to adjust after learning the reported location was incorrect.

Responders had to inch through congested traffic to reach a turnaround then had to maneuver through standstill cars on the southbound side to finally reach the scene. More than a half hour had passed by the time they got there, Pickering said.

Fire departments from Dane County to the Illinois state line have recognized the challenge of responding to crashes in the heart of the construction zone. They've agreed to send help from both directions to more quickly reach accident scenes and mitigate inaccurate location reports.

Concrete barriers on the Interstate narrow lanes and eliminate room to pass on the shoulders. If lights are flashing and sirens are wailing in a rearview mirror, the driver often has nowhere to move over, Pickering said.

And closed exit and entry ramps can restrict emergency vehicle access to the Interstate.

“It's why we're trying to do so much up front to get it right to make sure we know where is the crash,” he said. “Because once we commit, it becomes very, very difficult to get through and correct if we went on the wrong ramp or went in the wrong direction.”

Pickering believes sending responders from both directions could help in case a fire engine or ambulance gets stuck in traffic. It also means whoever arrives first can confirm whether the reported location and crash details are accurate.

Callers might be from out of state and might not recognize local landmarks, he said.

The state Department of Transportation has built temporary and permanent access roads for emergency vehicles to ease the burden on emergency personnel.

In Janesville, crews are building access roads under Interstate overpasses at Milwaukee Street and Mount Zion Avenue, Janesville Fire Chief Randy Banker said.

Milton has a new access point near Manogue Road, next to an Interstate rest area, Milton Interim Fire Chief Chris Lukas said.

Lukas and Banker said their departments haven't dealt with hard-to-access accidents the way Edgerton has. That's because construction has mostly taken place in Edgerton's jurisdiction.

Work will soon shift south, closer to Milton and Janesville.

Learning from Edgerton has helped those departments prepare for what's to come. The state Department of Transportation has been a “tremendous asset” to keeping everyone informed, Lukas said.

Pickering said the DOT has “bent over backwards” to help with planning.

The accident with a 32-minute response and others like it have not had any catastrophic consequences. Responders never arrived too late to a life-or-death situation because of an Interstate traffic jam, Pickering said.

Edgerton has modified its approach and put rescue equipment in ambulances. Ambulances are smaller and less cumbersome than the fire engines that normally contain such equipment, he said.

Drivers can help by giving accurate information when they report an accident. Doing so could prevent responders from heading in the wrong direction and getting stuck, Pickering said.

“The most important thing that can help us in these situations is if the callers can give us a good idea of where the actual crash is,” he said. “That's probably the most important thing of any kind of this stuff.”

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