MnDOT celebrates 30th anniversary of official FIRST/Highway Helper program
ROSEVILLE, Minn. –The Minnesota Department of Transportation is marking the 30th anniversary of the department’s formal Highway Helper program, now known as Freeway Incident Response, Safety Team (FIRST). Although a limited version of the program began six years earlier, February 24, 1993, marks the date that MnDOT made the motorist assistance program a permanent service.
MnDOT Metro District Maintenance began a pilot program in 1987 to aid Twin Cities motorists with vehicle issues such as flat tires, overheats or those who ran out of fuel. The initial Highway Helper program started with three employees who patrolled routes on Twin Cities freeways. The three Highway Helper trucks were stationed at Oakdale, Golden Valley and at the former France Avenue Truck Station located on France Ave. south of I-494.
The FIRST program exists to reduce incident related freeway congestion and prevent secondary crashes through the quick response and removal of incidents. FIRST drivers push vehicles out of the traffic lanes, clear debris, assist State Patrol with first aid and traffic control at crash scenes, provide small quantities of gasoline, jump start vehicles and assist with tire changes. The FIRST program is a key component of the Metro Area's Incident Management Program.
Following the program’s initial success, MnDOT made the program a permanent service of the department and hired 12 drivers to patrol six freeway routes. Through the years, the FIRST program has expanded to 21 drivers and 14 trucks that service 11 routes covering 220 miles of the Twin Cities Metro freeway system. FIRST is officed out of a building on 66th Street, just east of Cedar Ave. in Richfield.
During 2022, FIRST drivers responded to approximately 21,700 service calls. These responses included:
- 15,361 stalls
- 3,371 crashes
- 1307 debris
- 283 spinouts
- 118 vehicle fires and
- 82 medicals