Are We Compromising First Responder Safety?

In November of 2016 Colorado State Patrol Trooper Cody James Donahue was investigating a minor traffic accident outside of his cruiser. Though wearing a reflective vest at the time, he was struck and killed by a commercial vehicle. Trooper Donahue left behind a wife and two young children.

The safety of first responders is always a foremost concern. Of critical importance to first responder safety is visibility. Unfortunately, with hundreds of first responders still struck by vehicles and dozens perishing every year, we are still struggling to make real inroads in this important area.

We owe it to our first responders to make sure they make it home at the end of each shift. However, the problem of limited visibility goes beyond roadside functions. Today’s emergency personnel don’t travel only by traditional means, with their bright strobes and take down lights. Today they get around on horseback, bicycles, ATVs, and more; all of which offer little in the way of illumination or emergency lighting to increase visibility.

According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, 55% of all local police departments utilize foot patrol while 32% have bicycle patrol. And those percentages are as high as 100% in agencies that serve larger populations.3 Mounted police are also popular among larger agencies, with 77% of them regularly using mounted patrol.

First responders using alternative modes of transportation are identified by little more than their uniform and limited lighting, such as a flashlight or simple beacon attached to their uniform. This is insufficient to either readily see or identify first responders who need proper visibility and lighting to warn drivers and establish safety zones.

Signal Beacon
Throughout the country, there are tens of thousands of large events, crowded venues, celebrations, protests, and riots. First responders work nearly every one of them and need a way to signal where they are so that anyone can see. Whether doing a bar check, looking for a lost child deep in the woods, chasing someone on foot, getting mixed in with a protest, or working large venues, it’s difficult, if not impossible, for first responders to provide their location if they need assistance. Even if they know where they are, it is not always easy to articulate that on the radio. Crowds turn violent, people get lost, and police need a way to signal for backup.

Identification of Emergency Personnel
What’s almost equally important is for the public to be able to identify a first responder when they see one. While in their emergency vehicles with large lettering, and abundant strobe lights, there is no mistaking who the first responders are. But most emergency personnel perform their duties outside the vehicle.  Whether doing area checks on foot, working a bicycle unit, mounted patrol, or any one of the ever-increasing modes of transportation for first responders, law enforcement personnel need to be recognized as such. First responders find this to be a challenging task outside of their vehicle