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Traffic Collision/Physical Rescue

What Happens When A Traffic Collision Occurs

Your Orange City Fire Department firefighters respond to traffic collisions every day. These calls pose significant dangers for the public and responding fire department personnel. Traffic collisions could involve multiple vehicles, extreme weather conditions, hazardous materials, and significant injuries. With the primary focuses on safety and patient care, firefighters have to respond to mitigate the event regardless of conditions. For a standard traffic collision, fire dispatchers will send one fire engine and one rescue ambulance. Each unit has at least one assigned paramedic to initiate emergency medical treatment if it is called for. Most traffic collisions involve low speed accidents on city streets or parking lots where the drivers have already left the vehicle or have the capability to exit the vehicle without complication. When traffic collisions occur at higher speeds or with multiple vehicles, victims could be trapped inside the vehicle. During these scenarios, dispatch will send the following group of emergency units:

1 Battalion Chief (1 crew member)
·       1 Truck Company (4 crew members)
·       1 Engine Company (3 crew members)
·       1 Rescue Ambulance (2 crew members)
·       As many Orange Police or California Highway Patrol units as necessary to take a report and control traffic, depending on the location of the collision 

Each responding emergency unit plays a vital role in the overall incident. The battalion chief (BC) is responsible for command of the incident and acts as a liaison between on-scene units and dispatchers. The BC may also request additional resources to assist on-scene personnel if needed. Fire engine personnel are responsible for patient care and fire suppression.  The rescue ambulance personnel assists in patient care and transport. The fire truck is equipped with vehicle extrication equipment, so that unit is responsible for getting the patient out of the vehicle safely. Sometimes, firefighters have to take the vehicle apart to rescue a person.  The truck personnel will stabilize the vehicle and remove doors, cut windshields, remove the roof of the vehicle as necessary with hydraulic rescue equipment. Depending on jurisdiction, law enforcement units will also be dispatched for traffic control and additional safety.

Priorities and Concerns

The first priority of firefighters is to protect the patient from further harm and to keep the emergency crew safe. The fire department may need to block off multiple lanes or the whole road.  While that may occasionally be the case, safety is always the first priority. 

There are reasons why firefighters sometimes appear to be “standing around” at an incident, or doing nothing.   Possible reasons include waiting for appropriate equipment, such as a tow truck; blocking lanes with the fire engine for safety while police officers or the CHP completes their accident report; or standing by while a portion of the crew performs a specialty function that only particular members are qualified to perform (such as paramedic functions).  Essentially, there are many critical and specialized tasks that need to occur during many traffic collisions.  In providing the prompt, efficient and professional services that the community expects and deserves, firefighters provide these services in a very specific way.  Sometimes these are done quickly, sometimes they take more time, but they are always performed with safety with the first priority.

The growing number of safety features in modern vehicles presents a continual challenge to firefighters. Cars are made with multiple airbags, batteries, and additional safety features with which fire department personnel must become familiar. Firefighters train on a variety of vehicles including commercial vehicle that contain hazardous materials, “hybrids”, and mass transit vehicles. Fire department members also attend classes presented by automobile manufacturers, public transportation companies, and tow companies in order to stay informed on the latest technology used in vehicles.

If You Have A Collision

According to the Orange Police Department, you should move out of the roadway and stop as soon as you can safely do so. If you are injured or some other emergency exists, call 9-1-1.   See the Orange Police Department webpage for associated police information.  Keep your head and torso still if you suspect an injury to your spine.  Open your windows if airbags have deployed to ventilate the gas generated by the airbags.  Keep your safety belt fastened if you are still in traffic and cannot get out of the vehicle.

If You Are Trapped In A Vehicle Following A Collision

There distinct hazards posed by a damaged vehicle with an injured person trapped inside – namely, the possibility of fire, difficulty of patient care due to limited access, and the possibility of a secondary collision from another vehicle on the road.  Firefighters are aware of these hazards and take immediate and decisive action to protect you from further harm.  The driver of the fire engine will protect the scene of the crash as well as possible to prevent a second collision.  A paramedic will make access into the vehicle if possible to start patient care as soon as possible.  Firefighters typically place a fire hose in position to put a fire out if it starts, and other firefighters will start the process of freeing you from the vehicle.

Be prepared for a lot of noise and vibrations.  Firefighters may cover you with a sheet to keep glass and other debris off of you.  There is also a good chance that the firefighters will place you on a backboard and take you to a local hospital that specializes in trauma care.  The goal is to get you in the door of the hospital within one hour of the time that the collision occurs.

Knowing all of these procedures, and how to prioritize them when lives are at stake, takes a great deal of knowledge and experience.  Your Orange City Fire Department personnel train day in and day out for all kinds of emergency incidents – including traffic collisions – to keep you and your family safe and sound.   

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