Emergency Vehicles

Massachusetts police cars, fire trucks and ambulances racing to emergencies with lights flashing and sirens blaring collided with civilian vehicles 560 times last year.

That’s up roughly 10 percent, from 511 emergency vehicle crashes in 2004, according to Registry of Motor Vehicles figures. There have been 37 such crashes this year at last count.

Nationally, 170 people were killed and 18,772 were injured in emergency vehicle crashes in 2004, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The bulk of those killed in emergency vehicle accidents are the drivers and passengers of civilian cars, which often are lighter and smaller than ambulances and police cruisers. Nine ambulance drivers and passengers were killed in emergency-vehicle crashes in 2004 compared to 24 occupants of civilian cars and two pedestrians. 2004 National emergency vehicles in…

Ambulance Fire truck Police cruisers
... Fatal crashes 31 21 106
… Injury crashes 563 706 7,344
… All crashes 4,301 2,637 26,639

Source: National Safety Council, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

A veteran defensive driving expert with the National Safety Council warns that, the whole thing in the emergency services is that if you don’t get to the fire or arrive at the hospital in one piece you’re not going to do anyone any good. He further notes “when you’re running hot, there’s an adrenaline rush to this. I’ve gotta get there. I’ve gotta get there. You can get in trouble from that rush”.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, of the 106 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2005, 26 were the result of vehicle accidents. Company officers should ensure that firefighters operate safely when responding to emergency incidents just as they do at a fire or a hazardous material scene. While every firefighter must take personal responsibility for their own safety, the company officer is obligated to watch out for and stop any unsafe actions. Safety guidelines and procedures must be enforced when operating emergency vehicles.

  1. According to 2003 data from the National Fire Protection Association

    • There were 15,900 collisions involving fire department vehicles responding to or returning from incidents
    • There were 850 firefighter injuries associated with collisions involving fire department vehicles responding to or returning from incidents
    • There were 980 collisions involving vehicles owned by firefighters enroute to incidents
    • There were 85 injuries due to firefighters operating privately-owned vehicles going to incidents
  2. According to 2004 data from the United States Fire Administration

    • There were 22 line of duty deaths of firefighters responding to or returning from incidents
    • There were 20 collisions involving fire department apparatus that resulted in line of duty deaths

Emergency Operation of Apparatus

Members must be aware of all pertinent laws and SOPs.

When emergency vehicles are exempt from certain laws or statutes, operators are allowed to do following contrary actions:

  • Exceed posted speed limits while having due regard for safety of persons and property and maintaining full control of apparatus
  • Proceed past any steady or flashing red signal, traffic light, stop sign, or other device indicating moving traffic after coming to a stop and gaining control of intersection while having due regard for safety of persons and property

Park or stop on roadways while in performance of job duties

  • Disobey posted regulations governing direction of movement of vehicles (going down one-way streets in the opposite direction) and turning of vehicles
  • in specified directions as long as operator does not endanger life or property
  • Pass or overtake another vehicle at an intersection with due regard to safety of persons and property
  • Fire departments should enact specific rules and regulations and standard operating procedures pertaining to emergency response of fire department vehicles that meet or exceed municipal, state, and/or jurisdictional requirements (NFPA 1500 can be used as a guide)

Crew Responsibility

  • Passengers and operators should not dress while the apparatus is in motion
  • All firefighters should ride within a fully enclosed portion of the cab and firefighters not riding in enclosed seats should wear helmets and eye protection
  • If sirens and noise levels exceed 90 decibels, firefighters should wear hearing protection
  • All firefighters must be seated with their seat belts fastened when the vehicle is in motion
  • Apparatus should have seat belts large enough to accommodate a firefighter in full protective clothing
  • If it is absolutely necessary to ride in an unenclosed jump seat, safety bars should be provided to prevent falling
  • Firefighters should always use handrails when mounting and dismounting apparatus
  • There should be a seated position with a working seat belt for everyone riding on the apparatus

Emergency Response Considerations

  • Review the number of types of apparatus responding on each type of incident to determine if an emergency response is necessary
  • Consider having one unit respond in an emergency mode on automatic alarms or activated smoke detectors and other units responding in a routine manner until the incident is upgraded to a working incident
  • Review the priority levels for emergency medical patients in relation to the need to operate in an emergency mode when transporting the patient to a medical facility; also consider the well-being of the patient when using sirens
  • Although certain exemptions to traffic laws may be granted to emergency vehicles responding to an alarm, consideration should be given to following posted speed limits, especially in view of traffic conditions
  • Apparatus responding to an emergency and traveling on the wrong side of the road increases the potential for an accident and should be avoided
  • Precipitation, snow, ice, wet leaves, and hot oily surfaces require extra care and caution when vehicles are in motion because of the weight, size,
  • movement of water in tanks, and stopping distances required
  • Emergency lights and the siren request the right-of-way but is must still be granted by the public

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