ROCKLAND — Rockland Fire Chief Chris Whytock said emergency crews are increasingly at risk when they respond to car crashes and fires. The risk is from impatient drivers who fail to slow down and keep a safe distance from first responders, the chief said.

Chief Whytock issued a statement Sept. 24, a day after Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross was struck and killed by a pickup truck as the officer was at the scene of a call.

Deputy Gross, 44, was called to the scene of a crash on Route 3 in Trenton, near the Ellsworth town line, at about 4:30 a.m. Sept. 23. The driver of the crashed vehicle fled the scene prior to Deputy Gross’ arrival.

Deputy Gross parked his cruiser in the westbound breakdown lane with his emergency lights activated to investigate the crash. Deputy Gross was wearing a high visibility traffic vest and was picking up debris from the road when at approximately 5:15 a.m., he was struck from behind by a small pick-up truck.

The operator of the pick-up truck has been fully cooperating with the investigation, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety. No charges are expected to be filed at this time.

Whytock said there have been near misses with motorists passing by emergency scenes in Rockland.

That led the department to simply shut down roads when they respond to a crash or other emergency scenes.

He said even that has not completely stopped the risk. He said at a car crash at the intersection of Old County Road and Route 17 this past summer, the department blocked the intersection, but a driver tried to get around the emergency vehicles and was swearing at emergency workers for inconveniencing him.

Finally, with the help of a Rockland police officer, the older man was told to turn off his vehicle and not move the vehicle again until the accident scene was cleared.

“During the last year or two, the stress level has gone up and the ability of people to understand the safety of others has gone down,” the chief said.

Assistant Fire Chief Adam Miceli noted that so far this year, 29 emergency responders in the U.S. were killed on the roadway by motorists, and more still injured. Frequently, this is due to driver distraction or inattention, when a responder is struck by a vehicle passing through an emergency scene despite numerous blocking vehicles, flashing lights, cones or other temporary barriers, Miceli stated.

“The general public needs to understand that when police, fire, and EMS respond to a motor vehicle accident or other roadside incident, the focus is on treating injured victims which results in an inability to pay close attention to passing motorists, who are often troubled that their commute is slowed,” Miceli said in a written statement.