FAIRFIELD — Emergency responders held a press conference Wednesday at Fairfield Regional Fire School to address growing concerns over dangerous highway incidents and responder safety. This was prompted by the June 16 injury of Connecticut State Police Trooper Greg Sawicki, who was struck by a driver on I-95 while rendering aid. Sawicki is currently recovering from his injuries with plans to return to work, and the investigation into the driver is ongoing.

At Wednesday’s press conference, first responders voiced concerns that this incident is part of a growing trend of failure to obey Connecticut’s 2009 “Slow Down, Move Over” law. The law requires that when a driver sees any light-activated emergency vehicle, such as a police cruiser, fire truck, ambulance, Department of Transportation vehicle or tow truck, the driver must slow down and move to the adjacent lane.

Numerous officials spoke of the necessity for increased public awareness and practice of the law. Fairfield Fire Chief Denis McCarthy recounted a series of local first responder injuries and fatalities that have recently occurred on limited access highways. McCarthy also noted that in the last 10 years, 73 U.S. law enforcement officers and 32 firefighters and emergency medical personnel were struck and killed by vehicles in roadside incidents, in addition to hundreds of injuries.

“These are real incidents,” McCarthy said. “These are real people who have lost their lives serving others.”

McCarthy asked that the public follow a three-step process when approaching any flashing lights on the highway: put on their emergency flashers, slow down and move over one full lane. This process, he explained, only adds seconds to a trip, but can save lives. And by following this procedure, drivers can set an example for others behind them on the road.

First Selectman Michael Tetreau also spoke, emphasizing the preventable nature of these incidents and asking the public to follow this simple procedure in order to increase safety.

“This is about obeying the law and using common sense,” Tetreau said. “Our first responders are here to protect us. The least we can do is protect them. Injuries like this are 100 percent avoidable.”

Moving forward, first responders are looking to raise awareness of the “Slow Down, Move Over” law with increased signage and public outreach. Law enforcement will also be ramping up its patrol activity, especially with the approach of the busy holiday weekend.

According to Connecticut State Police Sgt. Robert Derry, law enforcement will be following a zero tolerance policy, writing violations on first offenses without giving out warnings. Violations incur fines starting at $181 and can reach up to $2500 in case of injury and up to $10,000 if death results.

Beyond enforcement, however, speakers at Wednesday’s press conference focused on the duty of the public to follow these laws.

“While [enforcement] sends a very strong message, it is not the answer,” Fairfield Fire Department Lt. Robert Smith explained. “This behavior can be changed through education and adherence to the concept of making the highway safer for emergency workers — not because it’s a law, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

rscharf@hearstmediact.com