published Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Chattanooga area first responders learning to clear accidents quicker

Lt. John Harmon talks to a group Tuesday during training at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Lt. John Harmon talks to a group Tuesday during training at the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

A group of 18 emergency responders sat in a conference room Tuesday and watched video of a Tennessee police officer getting hit by a car during a highway traffic stop. An oncoming car veered into the breakdown lane and struck the officer so hard he flipped in the air. Upon impact, those in the audience winced, and one person put both hands to his head.

After a few seconds, the officer in the video stands up and runs from the road. The video stops, and Lt. John Harmon of the Tennessee Highway Patrol explains the officer ended up OK.

"He's lucky, very lucky," Harmon said. "But you've gotta be constantly on your toes."

This week, representatives of the Chattanooga police, fire and transportation departments, among other emergency response groups, gathered to learn effective and safe means to deal with traffic accidents. That includes everything from where to park emergency vehicles to how many lanes to shut down in an incident. It's a national program that the Tennessee Department of Transportation has adopted, and it's free for all attendees.

In this course, they're "training the trainers," who can then go back to their respective departments and train everyone else. The emphasis is on "safe, quick clearance" of accidents, Harmon said, so that traffic can continue as soon as possible.

Harmon said Tennessee is the first state to have all its troopers certified in traffic incident management training. But for the first time this year, they're training the leaders of all of the different agencies together rather than individually.

"We're trying to get everyone singing from the same sheet music," Harmon said.

Frank Horne, program manager at the state's Transportation Management Office, said they've been using the program in Tennessee for two years. He said he thinks training the different groups together will allow responders to better collaborate.

"This is a new concept," he said. "Now we're understanding what other responders bring to the scene."

Phil Hyman, Chattanooga Fire Department training chief, said he's seen changes since the program was brought to the city.

"Working with TDOT on the scene has gotten better," he said. "Relationships with all the different agencies have improved."

Harmon said the training hopefully will help traffic flow smoother in Chattanooga even when there are accidents, so that drivers can get where they're going quickly and safely.

"The old days of 'we will get done when we get done' are over," he said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Smith at hsmith@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6731.

about Hannah Smith...

Hannah Smith is a staff reporter for the Times Free Press. She previously worked as a Pulliam Fellow at the Indianapolis Star and as a Middle East news reporter at the Global Post in Boston. She has also spent time in broadcast, interning at Channel 13 WTHR in Indianapolis, and radio, as a reporter for American Student Radio. Hannah graduated with honors from Indiana University in May with degrees in journalism and Arabic. There she ...

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