Training Suggestions for Highway Operations in the Age of “Social Distancing”

Everyone in the country is preoccupied with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Firefighters, EMTs and other emergency personnel are concerned about their potential exposure to the virus as they go about providing essential emergency services for the citizens in their service area. Each day brings new directives, executive orders, agency policies and procedures, guidelines, closures and endless news reports of statistics related to the pandemic. Information overload squared is part of everyday life now. As we all try to assimilate the avalanche of information it’s important that we also stay focused on the basics that have been designed to carry us safely through every shift and back home safely from every emergency run. Many of you have probably noticed a reduction in morning and evening rush hour traffic as more and more people are instructed to stay home and shelter in place nationwide. While less traffic seems to make our job easier and perhaps safer in some ways it also introduces some unusual hazards we need to bear in mind. Less traffic during rush hour now means that instead of picking your way through wall to wall vehicles to get to an incident scene during rush hour, you can now respond quickly and directly to an incident scene. It also means that those drivers who are used to sitting in traffic during rush hour are now able to push the envelope when it comes to speed on the highway. Speeding drivers are even more of a threat today to our personnel and our apparatus at highway incidents. With information, directives, and everything else coming at us at supersonic speeds, it’s important to remember the basics for highway operations to protect the crew, your rigs, the victims you are responding to assist in the first place, and the other drivers passing near your incident.

Here are some ideas to consider for company level training on the various subjects related to Highway Operations. Some of them can be done with “social distancing” in mind around the station:

1. Review the online training module about “Traffic Incident Management: TIM Training & 
Resources” available from The Emergency Responder Safety Institute at:

2. Review some other Firefighter Line of Duty Death Investigation Reports that involved highway incidents. The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program has numerous reports to consider. Discuss with the crew how you would handle the type of incident described and review applicable SOPs/SOGs that apply in your fire department. A list of NIOSH “struck-by-vehicle” Investigation Reports can be found here:

3. One of the most effective training techniques for road and highway operations is the tabletop exercise. If you have a big enough kitchen or training room table setup you might be able to still do tabletop exercises while maintaining “social distancing”. If your table surface area isn’t big enough to layout some typical scenarios in your area, then use a suitable engine room floor, station sidewalk or parking lot area where you can draw roadway maps with chalk. Draw emergency vehicle positions with different chalk colors as needed.Firefighters with toddlers at home might be able to borrow toy vehicles to use for the training. You could also use blocks of wood, Tupperware containers or other things to simulate the incident scenes and responding emergency vehicles. Small boxes can also be used and marked as necessary to indicate what type of vehicle – Fire engine, truck, rescue,ambulance, police car, etc. Make the scenarios challenging to provoke discussion among the crew on the pros and cons of various strategies and tactics. This is also a method for reviewing past incidents to reinforce effective scene management techniques or to brainstorm on ways to prevent a recurrence of issues identified during incidents that didn’t go so well. The next section includes a source for scenarios to use for discussion.

4. Assign a firefighter to lead a discussion about a certain aspect of highway operations by giving them a “Roadway Safety Teaching Topic Package for Instructors” on one of 10 topics available here:

Each Package includes:

• A lesson plan with a pre-class assignment, materials, learning objectives, teaching
content, practical and tabletop exercises, resources, and case studies.
• A "TIM in a Minute" video summarizing major concepts in the lesson. 
• A PowerPoint file to be customized with local SOP/SOG content for teaching key
concepts from the lesson.
• Model SOPs appropriate to the lesson plan.
• Use as much of the canned material as you want. They are designed to serve as a
template to customize with your local information and training.

Online training is a viable training option for many fire departments and there are over 35 different online training modules available on the Emergency Responder Learning Network covering all aspects of highway incident operations. The modules are free, but users do have to register so the system can track progress through the modules and issue certificates for successful completion of each module. Each module takes between 20 and 35 minutes to complete on average. If you are interrupted in the middle of a module for an emergency call or other station duty, you can resume where you left off when you return. Consider assigning one topic per shift or training drill for everyone to complete in advance and then discuss the content as it pertains to your local operations during the next shift or training day. You can review the list of topics here:

While issues involved with the pandemic are occupying a lot of your attention these days, it’s important to remember that your crew is exposed to moving traffic on almost every emergency response whether it’s on a high-speed, limited-access highway or a suburban residential street. With fewer drivers on the
road the speed of traffic is increasing, and the safety of your crew depends on proper strategies and tactics for protecting incident scenes including advance warning, blocking apparatus, high-visibility PPE, incident work area setups and coordinated ICS practices between all responding agencies. Even with social distancing guidelines to follow, there are ways to continue training on all aspects of highway operations. Wash your hands in the firehouse and watch your back on the highway!

Recent Stories
Creating Successful Drills for on Duty Training

Water Rescue Essential Training

Bridgehill Fire Blanket