Bill introduced to keep emergency responders safer on scene

By Holly Chilsen, WSAW

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- An area lawmaker introduced changes to a current law to better protect first responders at the scene of an accident.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by democratic Representative Katrina Shankland. It's an amendment to a current law that requires drivers to slow down in construction zones. Now penalties for not doing so in emergency zone areas would be treated the same.

"One of the leading killers of EMTs across the U.S. is motor vehicle accidents," said Deputy Chief Robert Barteck of the Wausau Fire Department.

He said accident scenes already have a lot going on.

"The traffic pattern is erratic around the scene, and they do their best with the vehicle they're arriving in to block as much of the scene for protection for themselves as possible, but they can't block at all. It's very chaotic."

He added that the last thing emergency responders should have to worry about is becoming part of another accident.

"It gets very distracting for that paramedic that needs to be focused on giving care. Now they've got to keep their head on a swivel looking for someone that's maybe not paying attention."

Rep. Shankland is hoping to fix that, making laws for emergency response areas similar to those of construction zones. The bill will allow law enforcement, fire fighters and emergency medical responders to post temporary reduced speed limits in the response area and increase penalties for any violators.

"If takes an increased enforcement, increased fines and punishment for traveling too fast in an emergency scene, then yes we're happy this bill is being introduced," Barteck added.

The bill also requires the Department of Transportation to educate the public about these changes.

According to statewide crash reports from the DOT in 2017, one emergency responder was injured assisting a vehicle fire. In 2018 one was injured after a secondary crash, and there haven't been any injuries or deaths so far this year.