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HERO program expands into Henry

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Jonesboro resident Dwaine Harris may travel more than 200 miles on any given day, up and down Interstate 75 in Clayton and Henry counties, while responding to traffic incidents.

The 27-year-old travels farther south into Henry since the expansion of the Georgia Department of Transportation's Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) program, a traffic incident management initiative aimed at the state's interstate highways.

Coverage by the transportation department's HEROs and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority's Towing & Recovery Incentive Program has been extended several miles down I-75 to Exit 116 - at Ga. Highway 155 in McDonough - to help reduce traffic delays around the Southern Crescent.

Harris is one of about 60 HEROs throughout the metro Atlanta region. He is one of three HEROs who make their way into Henry. He started the job in August, after three months of on-the-job training. He spent 200 hours training in the field and 320 hours in the classroom.

HEROs, who must hold commercial driver's licenses, receive education in hazardous materials management, first response, and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

The transportation authority's TRIP, first implemented in 2008, is aimed at helping clear wrecked vehicles from the roadway. The program offers monetary bonuses to heavy-duty recovery companies who clear wrecks within 90 minutes, an incentive which has helped bring the average clearance time down by more than 60 percent.

TRIP can be activated only by local police agencies or by HEROs.

HERO Supervisor Roosevelt Smith said major accidents do not happen often along the I-75 corridor in Henry, but "when it happens in Henry, it happens." Major wrecks on I-75 have caused traffic to slow to a crawl in Henry, even on roadways miles away from the interstate.

Officials estimate about 130,000 people travel through Henry County each day. Smith said some of the traffic along I-75 can be attributed to the high volume of transfer trucks on the road.

"Our primary function is to keep the interstates free and keep them moving," Smith said. "What we will fix is a flat tire, give you gas, and maybe some water."

HEROs' responsibilities range from tackling minor mechanical problems to providing directions. Operators even deliver babies on occasion. In its 13-year history, the HERO program has accounted for nine interstate births.

HERO Incident Response Units also assist local law enforcement and other emergency agencies whenever there are incidents along the interstate which could cause travel delays.

Despite the potential danger HEROs face working along busy roadways, none have been killed.

HEROs receive calls from police, and fire departments, and through the state's 511 call line, which motorists can dial when stranded.

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On the net:

Georgia Department of Transportation: www.dot.state.ga.us