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Don’t Play Russian Roulette at Intersections

The„driver„of„a„Baltimore City„Fire Department ladder truck„and„the supervising lieutenant„on the„rig at the time of„a December crash„that killed three people„were suspended without pay on Friday.„Both were suspended pending a hearing on administrative charges.

The incident happened on Dec. 9 when BCFD Truck 27 was„responding to a report of a„fire along with other apparatus when the driver apparently failed to stop at a red light and„collided with„an SUV as„the apparatus„came through the intersection.„Three occupants of the SUV — ages 24, 35 and 49 — were trapped in the vehicle and died. The four firefighters on the rig were treated and released from„Maryland’s R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.

BCFD requires all responding emergency vehicles to stop at traffic signals and make sure intersections are clear before proceeding though them. Ladder 27 did not do so. The fire that Ladder 27 was responding to turned out to be just food„burning on a stove.

JEMS Editor-in-Chief, A.J. Heightman, comments on this tragic case:

This case involves a ladder truck that proceeded through a red light and struck and killed three people unnecessarily. But it could very well have been an ambulance. This unfortunate incident is worthy of serious discussion.

1) Emergency vehicle operators sometimes forget that they„are driving a vehicle that is not nearly as responsive to sudden stops as their car or pickup truck. When a„large, heavy construction crane is being driven on a highway or through the streets of a municipality, it’s„usually preceded and followed by an escort„vehicle with warning lights or flags attached to warn drivers of its presence. But operators of„massive, heavy ladder trucks (or worse yet, quints full of water) often drive their rigs (which are the same size and weight as a crane) at speeds that defy the laws of motion when they must be stopped rapidly. This makes no sense and is a disaster waiting to happen, as it did in„Baltimore on Dec. 9. Whether you’re in a ladder truck, a medium-duty ambulance or a standard, Type III ambulance, these vehicles require more stopping distance than a typical passenger vehicle. There’s just no way to stop a„ladder truck, a medium-duty ambulance or a standard, Type III ambulance in the same time and distance as your car if you’re proceeding through a red light and have to make a panic stop because a vehicle is in your path.„That’s critical for you to remember„at all times when driving an emergency vehicle.

2) The officer-in-charge, whether it’s a company officer on a fire rig or a senior paramedic riding shotgun on an ambulance en route to a call (or riding in the patient compartment with a patient), is obligated to stop the driver from driving in an illegal or reckless manner, or report the driver to his or her superiors if they won’t comply. The lives of the innocent public, patients„in the ambulance„and the„driver’s co-workers depend on that to occur.

3) You can never assume opposing traffic, particularly those who have the green light, will know you’re proceeding through the intersection behind other apparatus. Even if two or three other pieces of apparatus make it through an intersection ahead of your rig, you must make sure opposing traffic sees you and you obtain the right of way before proceeding through a red light.„All emergency vehicle drivers should make sure opposing traffic sees them and obtain the right of way before„proceeding through a red light. For fire apparatus operating under the principle that„fire attack should occur within six minutes of dispatch, proceeding through a red light may be justified after they ensure all other traffic is stopped, but there are few circumstances where an ambulance needs to proceed through a red light with lights and sirens in use.

4) If an ambulance was„transporting a patient and„attendant in the patient compartment and involved in the same type of intersection accident as the BCFD ladder truck, odds are that the patient and attendant would have sustained serious injuries, particularly if the attendant was unbelted. Studies have shown that running hot (red lights and sirens) saves little time and„is the most common cause of injury to patients and crews.

Don’t play red light roulette with your emergency vehicle. The seconds you save in not stopping are„not worth your life„or the life of another.