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Biggest Shopping Day of the Year is Trouble for Texas EMS Crews

One of the best shopping days of the year is generally one of the worst days for emergency crews, they say. Traffic around the mall area and other shopping centers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season can create problems and pose possible safety hazards for emergency vehicles, officials say.

"It can be a real problem," said Chris Angerer, deputy chief of operations with the Lubbock Fire Department. "It causes us to have a slower response." Sometimes emergency vehicles are stuck in stand-still traffic, unable to move because they are boxed in and too far away to change the light to green. They can change the traffic light at about 200 feet. Making the situation even worse for emergency vehicles is drivers who don't get out of the way or forget which way they're supposed to move.

"It's a mess," said Bryan Stewart, Emergency Medical Services shift chief. "Getting through all that traffic is hard." Officials urge motorists to be friendly and aware and move to the right when possible. Some drivers panic and don't know what to do and some just don't notice the lights and sirens until they are right behind them. Some motorists are rude. "I think rudeness does increase for the holidays -- people are in a rush," Stewart said, adding he has witnessed drivers try to out-race emergency vehicles so they don't have to pull over.

Residents should keep in mind they should always try to move to the right and stop because emergency vehicles always try to travel in the left lanes. Emergency vehicles also will travel in oncoming traffic lanes or turning lanes if necessary and safe. Officials urge drivers to not run red lights to let an emergency vehicle by.

Angerer said motorists can feel pressured to do so, but it creates a safety issue for them, other drivers and the emergency personnel. If an emergency vehicle gets boxed into traffic, the driver will turn off its lights and sirens temporarily and reactivate them later. Another response team may be dispatched. When the light turns green, residents should proceed through the intersection if necessary to let an emergency vehicle out of traffic and then pull over or move right.

Angerer said another problem this time of year is drivers who block fire lanes at the mall while dropping off friends or family members. He said the practice can be dangerous because it would hamper firefighters from quickly accessing a building.

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