This week marks National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week. Emergency responders are reminding motorists to take caution when passing accidents and going through construction zones on highly traveled roads like the Maine Turnpike. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — The Scarborough Fire Department is tasked with responding to accidents and other incidents on one of the busiest stretches on the Maine Turnpike, one of the most highly traveled roadways in the state.

On Tuesday, in an effort to highlight National Traffic Incident Response Awareness Week, including the Scarborough Fire Department’s newest deputy chief, met at the Maine Turnpike Authority headquarters on Congress Street to remind motorist to take caution when approaching accidents or work zones, especially with winter weather on the horizon.

As of September 2019, more than 7.7 million vehicles passed through the exits in Scarborough, including 2.2 million at Exit 42, which connects the turnpike to Route 1, and 5.5 million at Exit 44, the turnpike connector to Interstate 295.

The Maine Turnpike Authority reported, 122 accidents have occurred between Exit 44 and Exit 53 of the turnpike so far in 2019. This is an increase of a dozen from 2018, an increase of 33 from 2017 and an increase of 39 from 2016.

Since January, Scarborough Deputy Fire Chief Rich Kindelan said, Scarborough Fire Department has responded to 33 calls to the turnpike, including 22 accidents, three brush fires, four non-accident medical calls and four vehicle fires.

Over the last few years, the section of the Maine Turnpike that passes through Scarborough has been a hotbed of not only traffic, but construction as the turnpike has worked to repave the interstate and clear trees and brush along the stretch and is about to wrap up a years-long project that replaced and upgraded the toll plaza area at Exit 44.

Scarborough Deputy Fire Chief Rich Kindelan Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Kindelan, who is in charge of the department’s emergency medical services, said it is not construction, but the public that poses the most threat to police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians when they are responding to an incident on the turnpike.

The state’s Move Over Law requires motorists to move a lane over when they see an emergency vehicle, utility truck or tow truck working in the shoulder or the road. If that is not practical, motorists are required to reduce speed.

“The constant and continued danger we have is the public not being aware and being distracted as they pass by,” he said.

While Kindelan has not been struck while responding to a call on the turnpike, he has had some near misses.

“We have had some close calls with people braking hard and I’ve been at calls where a secondary crash has occurred,” he said. “Anyone who works on the highway as much as we do has had a close call at some point.”

When responding to a call, Scarborough emergency responders use Traffic Incident Management techniques that, Tom Reinauer, transportation director for the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, said aims to increase responder safety; minimize traffic impact; decrease the likelihood of secondary crashes; and improves inter-agency communication.

Reinauer, who conducts Traffic Incident Management training across the state, said the education is focused on how to safely and quickly clear accident scenes on the turnpike and Maine’s other major travel arteries.

“The longer they are out there, the bigger the risk is,” he said.

Kindelan said increased communication between responders from the fire departments, police departments, emergency medical services and tow truck operators is paramount in securing an accident scene safely.

“We’ve really built a relationship with each other. That makes it much easier for us to do our work,” Kindelan said.

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