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How will first responders reach emergencies during I-26 work?

Given lane closures, slow-downs and stopped traffic during the I-26 widening project, Henderson County's emergency medical services personnel are forming detailed plans and backup procedures to reach crash scenes and transport patients to hospitals, Henderson County Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie told the Board of Commissioners Monday night.

 

DOT spearheaded a collaborative effort of EMS officials, fire departments, the State Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, area hospitals and 911 centers to plan for emergency operations during the construction, Brissie said.

"With this project DOT is taking a really taking an active role in planning for the process we been metign for over a year with a work group."

One piece of the response, the mountain regional traffic management system, has been set up to help coordinate emergency response. The Asheville-based center, only the second in the state, opened in July. It monitors flow of traffic throughout the region, particularly in construction zones and can update conditions in its traffic instant managemnet system.

The working group has focused on three Cs of the solution: collaboration, communication, clearing of roads.

A big area of concern was the construction process, he said. With traffic lanes sealed off by concrete barriers on either side. the working group "talked about how are we going to get to an accident if traffic's not flowing," Brissie said. One solution is to allow first responders to cross fire district lines and potentially cross county lines in mutual aide. In some cases, first responders may have to go the wrong way on I-26 to reach emergencies.

Increased communication will also help the agencies respond more quickly and efficiently.

The working group is also forming solutions for quicker clearing of crash scenes so allow emergency vehicles can reach crashes resulting in injuries. During a major I-40 construction project in Winston-Salem, emergency agencies put contract tow trucks in place to react quickly to clear vehicles. "I do want to point out this is all done in collaboration with local law enforcement that is investigating the crash," Brissie said.

With the planning in place now and ongoing communication, emergency personnel are confident "we're going to be able to respond safely and efficiently," Brissie said. "It's something that's being done on a regional scale so we're meeting regularly with our partners in Buncombe County."

Commissioner Michael Edney asked what first responder are planning to make sure ambulances can get from homes to hospitals and recommended that county emergency personnel form relationships with hospitals in the South Carolina Upstate.

"And eventually in all this mess, it's going to be a lot easier and quicker to go south than it is to go north," he said. "People are going to die if we don't do something."