Volunteer firefighters get the assurance they need from transportation cabinet
LEITCHFIELD, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet says firefighters have the authority to close stretches of highway when responding to an emergency.
After the death of Glendale Volunteer Firefighter Jonathan French, 25, volunteer firefighters across the region started asking for a change in policy. The firefighters claim they are pressured by state transportation officials to keep highways open while they respond to emergencies.
Multiple fire departments took the issue to a regularly scheduled meeting between representatives from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Grayson County emergency responders Thursday.
In the back corner of the room, Glendale Fire Chief Richard Peters sat quietly as he listened to transportation officials address regularly scheduled agenda items. Once the topic turned to French's death and highway closures during emergency response, Peters broke his silence.
"I'm not burying another fire fighter," Peters told the crowd. "Our trucks will be blocking the road."
The Glendale fire chief told the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet that he intends to shut down the interstate every time they respond to an emergency on the shoulder.
"When you come through Glendale and there's something going on on the interstate," he said. "Turn your radio on and get comfortable because you're not coming through until we're done."
Peters says they're pressured by the state to keep all lanes open to traffic while they work. If they do close a highway, Peters says transportation officials are pressuring them to re-open.
"We can close it down whenever we want, but then we have them on the phone [saying] I need it opened up,'" he said.
Transportation Cabinet officials say that's simply not true.
"I know no one in my office that has told a Kentucky State Police officer on scene, 'hey you have to open this road,'" said district four spokesperson Chris Jessie.
Meanwhile, other volunteer fire chiefs say although they've beefed up their policy after French's death, they generally ignore the pressure from the state and focus on the safety of their officers.
"If we see it's in our best interest we always do it, and we'll keep doing it," said Assistant Chief with the Clarkson Volunteer Fire Department Ken Lashley.
And transportation officials welcome it. They made it clear at the meeting that although they want interstates opened as quickly as possible, the safety of emergency responders is their first priority.
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