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Fire chiefs to hold talks with contractors over access in emergencies
West Yorkshire fire chiefs will hold high-level talks this week with contractors carrying out major roadworks on the M62 after it was revealed that a woman spent 20 minutes trapped in her car while fire crews battled to reach her in heavy traffic.
It is understood that firefighters could not make their way through the jams blocking all three lanes, which have been made narrower by the ‘managed motorway’ work being carried out on behalf of the Highways Agency between junctions 25 and 30.
An average fire engine is 2.5m wide and the usual lane width is 3.65m. But the lanes are at the bare legal minimum width while work is carried out, with the inside lane measuring 3.25 metres, the middle lane 3m and the outside lane 2.75m.
A 50mph speed limit is in force through the roadworks, which are due to be completed next year.
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service said an agreement existed for emergency vehicles to use the hard shoulder, which is doubling up as the work access route, but because it was used so infrequently the meeting had been requested to ‘refresh minds’ and check it was still “fit for purpose”.
A further concern is understood to be that parts of the work access lanes have been flanked by steel barriers to protect construction workers, and plant equipment is in the way at times.
News of the meeting also comes only days after a husband and wife were killed in the roadworks when an articulated lorry toppled on to their car as they travelled to Manchester Airport for a holiday flight.
Although the fire service will not directly link any specific incidents to the need to have the meeting, it is understood that fire crews have raised concerns with their managers about the situation.
The incident in which it took 20 minutes to reach the woman motorist took place on the eastbound carriageway of the motorway, between junctions 26 and 27, on Friday, July 13.
The fire service spokesman told the Telegraph & Argus: “We are having a meeting this week with the contractors to make sure the agreement is still suitable because it is not just a case of motorist safety, but firefighters’ safety and contractors’ safety.
“The meeting is mainly because the policy is used so infrequently and those roadworks are going on for some time and we have to make sure everybody is familiar with the policy and that it is still fit for purpose.
“I understand parts of the M62 hard shoulder have barriers and also we have to be aware of speed and that engines can’t ride up their with flashing blue lights “It is unlikely to have all three carriageways blocked at the same time. But if there is a massive incident it is important that everyone is made aware of procedures.”
A spokesman for the Highways Agency said plans were in place to enable all emergency services to use the hard shoulder to get to accident scenes.
“We have a dedicated 24/7 CCTV control room and Traffic Safety Control Officers who are available to liaise with the emergency services and to grant access,” said the spokesman.
“We have a text alert system to notify our workforce out on the motorway in the event that the emergency services will use the haul route to ensure that it is clear and that our workers are safe.”
A spokesman for Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “We have been working closely with the Highways Agency for the duration of the M62 works.”
The cause of last week’s crash, which claimed the lives of Mark and Tamsie McHale, of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, is still being investigated.