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Keep safety workers safe at wreck scenes

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Editorial: Aug. 28, 2014

ISSUE: Shutting down roads to work wrecks
OUR VIEW: Patience for drivers, not policymakers

The unfortunate loss of Glendale firefighter Jonathan French has sparked a debate over road closure policies at the scene of highway crashes.

When it comes to the protection of lives, what is there to debate about? If being 20 minutes late for a ballgame, a meeting or dinner helps keep someone alive, we should all be OK with that.

If our lives have gotten to the point that a road closure at the scene of a collision irritates and inconveniences us, then perhaps its time to reaccess priorities.

No reasonable, caring or considerate person would admit that getting to their destination was a higher priority than the safety of others.

It is so cliché to say that something good always comes from something bad. In this case, the potential for something good can come from the Aug. 6 crash at mile-marker 87 on Interstate 65 that took the life of Jonathan French and injured his mother, who also was on duty as a volunteer firefighter.

The “shutitdown” movement on Facebook is growing rapidly and is gaining national exposure. The movement calls for fire departments and other emergency agencies to shut down highways to protect personnel, patients and equipment at the scene of an emergency.

Some would argue that it’s time for the state or the federal government to step in and create laws that give these agencies the appropriate and acceptable guidelines for road closures in these situations. Surely, there’s a happy medium that helps to ensure the safety of everyone whether that is complete closure or controlled lane closures.

The Clarkson Fire Department created its own policy while discussing the French tragedy at a local restaurant. By the time, members left the restaurant a rough draft of the new policy was ready.

Moments later it was implemented when the department was called to a collision on the Western Kentucky Parkway. The new policy called for a complete road closure until all first-responder work was complete at the scene.

Had a similar policy been in place before the crash near Glendale, a semi never would have had the chance to hit the Glendale fire engine and the French family would not have suffered such a devastating loss.

While Clarkson’s quick decision illustrates that policy changes need not be stiffled by endless debate, it raises a question about who should make these decisions.

To Kentucky’s legislators, there is a need to define how and when emergency response agencies can close the roads for safety purposes.

The community still feels the loss of Jonathan French. But it is possible that someday his tragedy could be the last of its kind. Amid the warm memories of his young life, Kentucky could have new laws that helps keep first responders safe.

This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.