Local officials concerned with growing number of first responder deaths nationwide

Published: Jan. 15, 2020 at 3:40 PM CST
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The numbers are alarming: In the first two weeks of 2020, seven first responders were hit and killed while doing their jobs on roadways across the country.

"These are unnecessary deaths. They are absolutely preventable," says Fond du Lac Fire Chief Peter O'Leary.

The deadly start to the new year has caught the attention of local public safety officials.

Dashcam video caught a near miss in Fond du Lac County on a snow covered road last year, the deputy scrambling out of the way.

Another squad car was totaled following a crash back in November. The squad was parked at a crash scene when another driver plowed into it.

According to Capt. William Tadych with the Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office, "Our deputies are constantly looking about, and their heads are on a swivel, looking for that, listening to a car screeching as it's putting on the brakes or swerving out of control. They're conscious of it because they know it's putting them in a bad position from past experience."

In both of these instances everyone walked away unharmed, but getting hit by another driver is a danger first responders face every time they're on a call.

Chief O'Leary adds, "We're vulnerable there. We have no protection other than what apparatus we have, and certainly drivers go by these crashes way too fast."

Emergency lights are always used at a scene to get people's attention. In some cases, fire departments will bring an extra truck to an incident to not only block those working from traffic but also to give them room to maneuver.

According to O'Leary, "Years ago, we'd be like keep the lanes open as much as you can, but now we're into scene safety a little bit more."

While first responders already do a lot to try and protect themselves, it's really up to the motoring public to help keep them safe."

"It takes the human element," adds O'Leary. "The person driving the automobile or the truck or whatever it is to slow down, to physically slow down, keep your eyes on the road, don't look over at the crash and let us do our work."

Because for first responders and tow truck operators and others, it's a matter of life or death.

"The Move Over law is there for a reason to try and get people to slow down, and when they do see those lights on give a wide berth so that we can do our job safely," says Capt. Tadych.

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