Police officer learns about the dangers of road (strike) flares

The story below is yet another example of the complications involved in the use of road (strike) flares. One flare coming in contact with combustible materials, dry vegetation, leaking flammable liquids or vapors, and in the case of this story...SEWER GAS!!

Think safety...Think EMERGI-SAFE 2020!!

An Ann Arbor police officer learns a hard lesson about the proper placement of road flares

By Rich Kinsey

The nice thing about being a retired cop from the Ann Arbor Police Department is the camaraderie. We often meet for breakfast, catch up, joke and harass each other. Sometimes a good story will also rise up above the bacon n’ eggs and bovine scatology.

The story I'm about to tell came from an officer and friend who chided me that my writing isn't particularly interesting, but he likes the comments that follow and finds them much more interesting. Cops are a tough crowd.

He told us that years ago, there was a fire in the area of Main and Kingsley, and the officers had to re-route traffic. One of the officers at the scene set up a traffic flare line to move traffic in the proper direction.   

There's an art to laying traffic flare patterns. Some on the expressway can be very long. Police officers must learn the proper techniques of flare placement. Traffic flares - also known as railroad flares or “fusees” - will burn brightly red and expel acrid sulfur smoke for about 20 minutes. For long flare lines, the experienced officer will lay three or four flares together so one flare will light the next flare and so on. 

Wind conditions also must be taken into account. I know from experience that flares will roll in the wind and sometimes light unexpected things on fire. In my case, it was a flare that rolled from my traffic point at State and Stimson the evening the University of Michigan and Michigan State University battled on through several overtimes in the Big House. I wound up having to stamp out a little fire in the leaves and rubber railroad track bed.

According to the breakfast story teller, the flare pattern at Main and Kingsley was well-set - or so it seemed. The scene was wrapping up, and the officers were extinguishing the flares and properly disposing of the spikes attached to the nonburning side of the flare. The officer telling the story spied an anomaly in flare placement.

A flare was still burning, wedged in the hole of a sewer cover. The officer who spotted it thought whoever placed it there didn't have a keen grasp on the fact that sewers are full of methane gas. Amazed that the flare hadn’t caused an explosion, the officer pulled it out of the sewer cover.

It may have been a globule of flame that dropped down the hole or the exact concentration necessary for conflagration - that is almost explosive combustion -  but explode it did. The officer must have just gotten his arm out of the way when he saw a huge blue tower of flame and saw the heavy manhole cover blown about 30 feet into the air. 

He next realized that what goes up must come down - just about the time the 80 or 90 pound manhole cover was reaching maximum altitude. The officer ran, and the manhole cover came down with a clang and clatter like a massive coin hitting the ground.

The officer was saved by his heavy winter coat, gloves and eyeglasses, but he was still burned on the face, hands, and wrist. He was treated and released with some miracle ointment that healed the burns in a few days.

No one else was injured. And the unscheduled launch of the sewer cover was used as a learning tool for scores of police recruits being instructed about the proper use of flares.

5 Things You Should Do If Your Vehicle Breaks Down

Who could have seen that giant piece of tractor trailer in the middle of the highway at 3 am when its raining and pitch black? Or that box of nails? Or maybe you just looked at the GPS for like 2 seconds and that guard rail came out of nowhere!

Whatever happens there's no need to be embarrassed, we've all been there. But here's 5 tips on how to keep yourself and your passengers safe when these inevitable accidents occur. Brought to you by DN Safety Products

1. Know where you are.

Towing companies or first responders will need to know where you are in order to help! Take note of what exit you are near, or the closest cross street. Look for landmarks like gas stations, businesses and restaurants. If you're on a highway look around for mile markers or exit signs.

Techno-Tip: Pull out that state of the art cell phone and put it to use! Take a look at the GPS to get pretty accurate location, just be careful in areas with poor service, your GPS could say you are miles away! 

2. Get off the road!

Make sure your vehicle or at least you and the occupants are out of harms way. On most roads, pull your vehicle to the far right shoulder (On some highways you may need to pull left to the center median). What if you can't get your vehicle off the road? Assess your situation. Immediately turn on your emergency flashers. If you feel that your vehicle could get hit from behind, GET OUT, and get away from the vehicle. Never stand behind or in front of a vehicle, check for oncoming traffic and carefully get off to the side of the road.

3. Make yourself seen.

The visibility of your vehicle or your occupants could be the difference between life and death. Have you ever seen a video of a pile up during a snow storm like this one? It's not pretty. So make sure you are seen by passing motorists and responding personnel. Turn on your emergency flashers. Secure a brightly colored piece of clothing or cloth to the radio antenna, or window or pop the hood and tie it off. If you have flares, warning triangles or similar safety products you can use those, if you don't have a fuel leak or smell fuel. Best practice is to place these items at intervals of 10 and 100 and 300 feet. Always watch for oncoming traffic. 

Techno-Tip: EMERGI-SAFE 2020's are battery operated replacement for road flares. They are safer, longer lasting, and have an integrated flashlight, work-light (Lantern) and signalling light.

4. Call for help. 

After you are in a safer location. You should call for help. If you have been involved in an accident, call 9-1-1 immediately. Be prepared to give your location information (see No. 1) and any other important information like if there are injuries and the number of people or vehicles involved.


If it is not an accident, but your vehicle is disabled and is safely out of the roadway, you can call for roadside assistance. Contact a third party provider (AAA), insurance company or state highway response number (In New Jersey on I-95 dial #95). and be prepared to give your location and vehicle information.

5. Stay with your vehicle.

 If you are safely out of traffic, the safest place to be is in your vehicle with seat belts fastened. Your vehicle was designed to absorb impact and protect occupants, if you are struck outside of your vehicle, you may not fare so well. Make sure you keep your windows mostly closed and and the doors locked. If a stranger offers help, ask them to call roadside assistance. If you do need to leave your vehicle consider the following:

a. Leave a note explaining who you are, how to contact you, where you are going, when you will be back and what you are going to do (return with gas, a tow truck, a mechanic). 

b. Make sure you check for oncoming traffic and exit the vehicle through the passenger side if possible. 

c. Carry a flashlight at night and make sure you are visible with bright colors if you need to walk for help (this should always be a last resort).

We hope you learned something from these tips and if you have any questions or safety tips you think we missed, feel free to give us. Thanks for reading and look out for new posts soon!