Fire Chief Says Response to Fatal Motorcycle Crash on Highway 101 was Delayed by Traffic

A collision on southbound Interstate Highway 101 left a motorcyclist dead in Palo Alto on Tuesday evening after emergency crews headed to the crash were delayed by heavy traffic, fire officials said.

The crash was reported at 5:46 p.m. on southbound Highway 101 just north of Embarcadero Road. California Highway Patrol officers said the victim's death was reported to dispatchers just before 6 p.m.

According to Menlo Park Fire Protection District Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman, traffic in the area was "terrible" and it had a definite impact on the ability of first-responders to assist the victim.

On Tuesday, Engine 2 from East Palo Alto was first on scene at 5:56 p.m. -- 10 minutes after dispatch received the first report of a “level one trauma patient,” which Schapelhouman said is "as bad as it gets."

Shortly thereafter, paramedics pronounced the victim dead, he said, adding, "It’s tragic, but sadly not uncommon when a motorcycle is involved."

Schapelhouman told NBC Bay Area that traffic congestion represents a “constant enemy” for first responders, dramatically cutting down on their response times. But, it may not have directly contributed to the outcome of Tuesday's accident.

“The [Fire] Captain didn’t feel, in this case, a faster response time would have changed the outcome but obviously our ability to get there sooner rather than later can, and has, made a difference on other incidents,” Schapelhouman noted.

It did, however, highlight an ongoing issue that he believes merits attention.

Last week, the fire district's board of directors adopted new standards, establishing a goal of having the first firefighters on the scene of an incident within seven minutes of being reported to dispatch. Firefighters were not able to meet that new standard when responding to Tuesday's fatal motorcycle crash, Schapelhouman said.

Having listened to radio traffic, Schapelhouman said that the responding Captain and Battalion Chief even talked about closing down northbound Highway 101 to carry the patient to the other side of the freeway and then onto East Bayshore Avenue to provide the ambulance “a straight and faster route” to Stanford Hospital.

Sympathizing with other motorists on Highway 101 who “could hear our sirens and knew that we were coming,” Schapelhouman acknowledged that it took longer for fire crews to reach the victim than anticipated -- or desired.

“That’s tough on the average person, especially when someone is lying lifeless on the ground,” he said. “Most people don’t like feeling helpless like that, it’s nothing anyone ever forgets because a human life was hanging in the balance, and that’s as real as it gets.”

Schapelhouman said that roadwork on southbound Highway 101 at San Francisquito Creek, which has resulted in narrower lanes and the omission of the road's shoulder, has created an obstacle for fire crews because motorists have nowhere to go even when they try to move out of engines’ way.

“Losing in our business means that someone is often having their worst , or in this case their last day,” he said.

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