There is nothing sweeter than seeing a shiny red (or black over red…) fire engine with a Q2B siren blaring and red lights blinking. It is a sight to behold.
With the above beautiful image in mind, the age old question of, “what should we run emergency traffic to?” is a more important question now than ever.
In urban areas of our country, traffic is at a much higher density than ever before. This is simply due to a more concentrated population. The higher speed limits, the higher number of interstates, the higher number of multiple lane city streets, and more intersections have created a situation that can be tragic for that shiny fire engine responding to a call.
With the added risks, what types of calls are we running emergency traffic to? If you hit that master warning switch, is it ACTUALLY an emergency? If you end up in an accident or cause someone else to have an accident due to your response, it is a justified emergency run?
Society has changed. We now live in a society where a lawyer is a phone call away and just because you have given your life to helping others, it doesn’t make you exempt from consequences. Consequences such as civil penalties, criminal charges, company PR nightmares, and career damage. Are you doing what is right? Firefighters must think rather than just acting. Remember, “You only spin because you are unprepared.” It is your job as a driver and officer to use your head. We are professionals remember?
I encourage all organizations to take a minute to state in the form of policy what is an actual emergency. Train on the standard. Teach others to use their heads. We need to stop hitting the master warning switch every time the tones drop. Only a portion of our job is an actual emergency. Some examples of what is not an emergency (remember this is my opinion, but take time to think about my opinion before you just disagree. Also keep in mind; we are educated professionals in the fire service, not fly by night vigilantes.)
-Tree down (unless there is a life hazard such as tree on an occupied vehicle etc..)
- Elevator rescues (unless there is a medical emergency inside)
- Many types of service calls.
- Most smoke investigation in the area calls (check out your CAD comments, information from the caller, etc…)
On the flip side of this conversation, don’t allow yourself to become complacent either. If it is dispatched as a high priority call, treat it as such until you prove otherwise. Remember that we deal with worst-case scenarios.
Just do what is right. Take a minute when the buzzer goes off to think about the call. Is it really an emergency? If we run emergency traffic, can we justify it? If the unthinkable occurs, can you justify the run? Can you sleep at night with your decision?
To close, this job is dangerous enough without taking unjustified risks. We will never be able to eliminate the danger of our job entirely. We can however, reduce the level of risk we take by simply taking a minute to assess our decisions before acting.
Be smart out there and respond safely.