Military and Police

Blockers: A Whole Different Kind of Copblock

The irony of my newsfeed displaying information on a site called Move Over Laws followed by an article published by Firehouse.com was thought-provoking enough for me. Having served my entire law enforcement career working the streets, it remains unshakable that the dangers of “playing in traffic” is, for cops, far from the rhetorical joke we still sometimes say/hear. Despite states enacting Move Over laws to keep cops, firefighters, EMTs, wrecker operators and road utility workers safe (alive), otherwise avoidable tragedies are still occurring out there.

Automobiles are a ubiquitous feature among our society’s bustling pace, a convenience afforded by the driving privilege some take for granted.

Just this past weekend, San Marcos, Texas police Officer Claudia Cormier responded to reports of hazardous obstacles in the roadway on Interstate 35. Upon her arrival and positioning her police cruiser to signal/block oncoming traffic flow while she tried to clear the lanes of junk, she was struck by a motorist with a case of head-up-hiney syndrome. According to KVUE, that motorist, Neil Sheehan, was arrested and charged with “intoxication assault on a public servant, a second-degree felony, and failure to slow causing serious bodily injury.”

As I write this piece, a report of two Aurora, Colorado police officers conducting a traffic stop last night (blue emergency lights most evident) were nearly wiped out by a drunk driver. Although the two cops escaped in the nick of time, their respective patrol cars remained in the reticle and will not be returned to service any time soon, if ever.

Naturally, we expect all drivers to focus on the sole task of responsibly operating a motor vehicle sans-distraction and with due diligence. There’s a darn good reason police cruiser and emergency vehicles have those flashing lights attached. Yet, incidents such as the one which pancaked a San Marcos police officer Saturday night seem to continue. What else can public safety do to preempt such tragedies?

Presiding over the Irving, Texas fire department is Fire Chief Victor Conley who, after doing his homework, came up with a potential plan to remedy the dilemma. It has to do with doing more with less. Put another way, his idea uses the inverse of out with the old and in with the new. What I am referring to is placing back in service antiquated fire apparatus otherwise earmarked for the trash heap or auctions (where outmoded public safety vehicles are usually sold for whatever the agency can recoup).

In November 2017, Chief Conley successfully sold his “Blocker” blueprints to Irving, Texas elected officials. Shelved stars were reborn. Vintage fire trucks were gutted and retooled (filled with 6,000 pounds of sand). The Irving Fire Department now uses several old fire units with apt insignia such as Blocker #1, Blocker #2, etc. to act as solid barriers where cops and fire personnel are working crash scenes. Signs of success were evident, influencing other fire services agencies to consider the enhanced safety measure.

Reports are that other fire service departments from across our nation as well as other countries took note of the blocker concept and use aged fire apparatus such as engines and ladder trucks to place in service at major scenes where hazards are endemically elevated. In April 2019, the Dallas Fire Department (DFR) employed two antiquated fire engines as blockers, dedicated solely “to keep first responders from becoming victims as they’re responding to car crashes and fires along busy freeways.” The main objective is to save lives, save money, and prevent expensive equipment from being damaged. (The Irving Fire Department, for instance, suffered a $2 million blow when two brand-new fire engines were struck at crash scenes, resulting in totaled tax payer-funded emergency equipment.)

Ordinarily, close-to-retirement fire engines would be scrapped; some are sold for a few bucks. Why not use them as relatively solid barriers at crash scenes where public safety personnel are investigating? Why not remove some of the perils cops confront working on the open roads? Chief Conley measured those questions and his efforts saw immediate dividends.

DFR claims it has had 70 of its fire apparatus fleet struck on highways. Imagine if each of those 70 fire trucks were public safety professionals. The Move Over laws are not a cure-all and are only as good as the drivers who heed emergency services personnel on the nation’s highways and byways. Although I respect Chief Conley’s notion that the best answer is for all drivers to pay ultra attention when operating autos…sadly, utopia is not near. He still thought out of the box.

During my duty days working traffic crashes, the sight of one or more heavy fire engines or ladder trucks enabled added comfort and confidence in doing my job and not being waffled by someone “driving with head up ass,” affectionately (nah, not really) known as DWHUA.

A recent DWHUA example which occurred in Irving, Texas typifies how invaluable the concept is: In March 2019, an IFD blocker performed its intended function when it was struck by a careening motorist, essentially saving the lives of several cops and firefighters investigating/working a traffic wreck…thanks to the department’s aged Blocker #8.

Not all dinosaurs are extinct.

As Firehouse‘s Joe Vince reported, “blockers don’t necessarily have to be pretty, just functional.” What do you think of such a program? Staffing issues?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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