Local fire chiefs’ testimony helps movement of Roadside Responder Safety Bill

By Patrick Lynn

The Wisconsin State Assembly this week voted to approve bipartisan legislation that helps protect workers on a roadside first responder scene.

Assembly Bill 297 was introduced by Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) and a coalition of legislators including Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), Rep. Jon Plumer (R-Lodi), and Sen. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) to protect first responders and roadside workers.

Shankland said she’s been working on the issue with fire departments and first responders across Wisconsin.

Assembly Bill 297 would strengthen penalties for traffic violations like reckless driving, and using a cell phone, in areas where emergency or roadside response vehicles are present and personnel are at risk from traffic.

The legislation would also create an emergency response zone and allow first responders to slow down traffic in that area.

The bill also requires a greater public education campaign from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation on changes in the law, and the risks associated with failing to move over, reduce speed, and using their cell phones in emergency response areas.

“I first became engaged with the issue of roadside safety for first responders after a reckless driver crashed directly into a fire truck in Waupaca as they were responding to an incident, and Amherst Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Swan brought me down to the situation to talk about it and how the Legislature might be able to help,” Shankland said. “Since then, I have worked with him, Amherst Fire Chief Victor Voss, my legislative colleagues from both parties, and roadside responders and stakeholder groups from across the state to craft and advance this legislation.”

The bill will advance to be considered next by the Wisconsin State Senate.