The TIM Perspective: Seeing Traffic Incident Management Through the Eyes of Others

By John Bassett and Shawn Brimhall, Co-Chairs of the Statewide TIM Steering Committee

Responding to crashes and vehicle fires on highways has become ever more dangerous.

Every year, hundreds of first responders across the country are killed or seriously injured on highways while simply trying to perform their sworn duties. This is true not only for the firefighters, but for police, EMS, tow truck operators and highway workers as well.

In order to combat this problem, a focused and collaborative training program has been developed to help all responders – including firefighters – better manage crash scenes and improve safety for everyone involved.

The Traffic Incident Management for Responders training program, which is available throughout New York State, was developed by responders for responders and emphasizes the individual’s role in making crash scenes as safe as possible. Most importantly, the program teaches responders to see incidents from different perspectives so that they can better manage the scene.

Good Traffic Incident Management (TIM) practices help prevent secondary crashes – which are often worse than the initial crash. For instance, if you block two lanes for a fender bender on the shoulder, you’re likely causing an unnecessary backup that may create even more hazardous conditions and lead to more severe crashes as traffic approaches the backup.

The course is designed to give all responders a clear understanding of the principles of good traffic incident management with the goal of making our roadways a safer place to “work” and drive. Since the inception of the training program in 2013, more than 10,000 responders from various disciplines and jurisdictions across the state have taken the class.

The training program was created by a statewide steering committee that was formed in 2009 to examine ways to enhance safety at highway incident scenes. Comprised of representatives from 26 first responder organizations, the committee meets bimonthly and looks for ways to:

  • Enhance the safety of motorists, crash victims and incident responders;
  • Conduct an appropriate response and safely clear an incident;
  • Enhance collaboration of responsible agencies during preparation for planned events; and
  • Get traffic moving again as soon as possible while managing the affected traffic until normal traffic conditions are restored.

In addition to the TIM training program, the committee – which includes representatives from the FASNY, New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs – has produced such valuable resources as the NYS Emergency Traffic Control and Scene Management Guidelines, the Emergency Responder Vehicle Placement Plan and numerous recommendations to enhance existing procedures and policies.

Invoking good TIM practices will ensure that the number one priority at the incident scene is that everyone goes home to their families – firefighters, police, highway workers and the unsuspecting motorists on the highway.

See the Scene from Different Perspectives

The most important aspects of Traffic Incident Management relate to the “Four C’s”:

  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Coordination
  • Consensus

Following the Four C’s will help ensure that everyone at the scene has each other’s back and that there is a consistent
approach across all disciplines.

A key aspect of this training is learning to look at an incident from different perspectives and understand the role and challenges faced by each responder and the motorists. Once everyone understands the challenges facing other disciplines, it becomes easier to manage and overcome them.

For instance, viewing an incident from the perspective of the tow operator – who is the last one called and the last one to leave the scene – or putting yourself in the seat of a police officer who is often parked in a vulnerable position with nothing more than flashing red lights for protection, can provide invaluable insight into managing the situation.

Just as important is understanding the crash scene from the perspective of a motorist approaching the scene who is looking for clear guidance on what to do next – “Should I change lanes?”, “Should I follow the car in front of me?”, “Should I stop?”

Incident managers must also make on-the-spot decisions on issues such as whether a lane or an on-ramp should be closed to minimize chaos on the scene, or where is the best place to stage the ambulance vs the tow truck vs the pumper.

Getting the Perspective

The TIM training class is designed to give all responders a clear understanding of the principles of good traffic incident management, with the goal making our roadways a safer place to “work” and drive. Traffic Incident Management for Responders, which serves as a prerequisite to the OFPC’s “Highway Safety for Emergency Responders”, is offered in a few different versions:

  • A full-day course that runs approximately six to eight hours, which can be broken down by module and given in two half-day sessions. A tabletop exercise is included in this version which allows attendees to put into practice what they have learned in the course.
  • A three-hour condensed version which eliminates the tabletop exercise as well as some of the more detailed training found in the full-day course.
  • A one-hour “overview” course that provides a high-level summary of the importance of TIM training and the positive impact that can be made by training first responders. This overview can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the audience, such as Fire Police or line Firefighters, 911 Dispatchers, EMS, or DPW, etc.

In addition to the formal classroom course, the New York State TIM Steering Committee hosts the statewide TIMposium every other year. This free, all-day event held at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany brings together 200 first responders to share best practices, learn from national TIM experts, participate in hands-on exercises and experience practical demonstrations of Incident Management.

Classes are held throughout the year and can also be scheduled by request. You can find an upcoming course through your county fire coordinator’s office.

John Bassett is the Director of the New York State Department of Transportation’s System Management & Operations Bureau and Shawn Brimhall is a Fire Protection Specialist with the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control.