Tips from the Incident Response Team

For an inside look at the life of IRT, follow #goIRT as @wsdot_traffic live tweets from the road between 6 to 10 a.m. Friday, April 18.
By Mike Allende

We’ve been known to refer to our Incident Response Team as “our super heroes.” It’s easy to see why. Whether it’s a flat tire, a major collision or a mattress in the middle of the freeway, our IRT workers always seem to be ready to help get things cleared and traffic moving again.

I recently had a chance to spend some time with IRT member John Perez and he insists they aren’t super heroes. They’re out there because they want to help people, he said, and they appreciate that most people are happy to see them arrive on the scene.

IRT is always ready to push a disabled vehicle off
the highway and get traffic moving.
If you’ve driven our highways long enough, there’s a good chance you’ve gotten assistance from IRT. Maybe you need a gallon of gas to make it to the filling station. Maybe you were shaken up by a fender-bender in the middle of Interstate 5. As the “Morning Guy” on our WSDOT Traffic Twitter account, I have the pleasure of watching IRT every morning, zipping around our highways and trying to keep traffic moving as steadily and safely as possible.

I also get to field and send on Twitter comments from motorists, like “I’m sure IRT has that cleared up by now. Great Seattle resource, they are awesome,” and “The IRT folks are indeed super heroes.”

IRT heads towards a car fire to help keep traffic safely away.
IRT works closely with the Washington State Patrol to clear the highway as quickly and safely as possible in order to minimize congestion and enhance motorist and responder safety. That often means stepping out into fast-moving traffic with nothing protecting them except a helmet. With Work Zone Awareness Week just behind us, I thought a few tips from IRT about how you can help them help you might be helpful.

John, who handles incident response primarily on State Route 520, said drivers should stay in their car and stay strapped in until help arrives, because it’s going to be safer inside the vehicle. Be sure to call 911 just to be sure help is on the way.

One of the main challenges of responding to a blocking situation is that traffic around the stall or collision often doesn’t slow down. So…slow down and give our team a chance to work. If you want lanes to reopen, give IRT space and let them do their job so they can get traffic back moving again.

IRT has to handle many jobs, including picking
up someone’s lost laundry.
If possible, it’s always a great idea to drive your car out of traffic, either to the shoulder, gore point or exit off the highway and wait there for help to arrive. Sometimes a driver simply needs someone (IRT or the State Patrol) to tell them it’s OK to move, or they need some help guiding them to safety.

Sometimes a car is stuck and needs a push. John said there are times when a driver does not want an IRT truck to push the car to the side for fear of damage, but that shouldn’t be a worry. Our IRT trucks have a layer of Teflon on the front that they use to push a car to the shoulder or gore point. The most damage is likely to be a black smudge that can be wiped off. Trust our IRT, listen to their instructions, put the car in neutral (don’t hit the brakes!) and you and your car will be fine.

Who does the Army call when it needs help? Mighty IRT!
Running out of gas on the freeway can be embarrassing. But remember, IRT is only interested in getting you and traffic back moving, not to judge or lecture. So be up front about what’s going on so IRT can get things cleared quickly.

Collisions and stalls happen on our highways. There’s no real way around it. But we’re lucky to have our outstanding IRT ready to go when trouble calls. Follow their tips and give them some space, and they can help keep our highways moving as smoothly as possible. Oh, and don’t forget to add a “Thank you.” Even super heroes appreciate that.