08/23/09 218 W - + 8 - 5 Discussions on Driving

In Austin, TX, the fire department has a new policy on driving. Responding apparatus must obey speed limits, and come to complete stops at intersections. Previous, they were allowed 10 MPH over the speed limit, and could not required to stop at intersections, provided other drivers were aware that they were coming through. The Austin firefighter's union doesn't agree with the new policy. The perspectives on both sides have made the news, such as in this Austin American-Stateman article.

Perhaps most interesting are reader comments, which offer frank perspectives from both firefighters and citizens. Over 150 have been posted so far. The comments cover all sorts of ground, from response times to firefighter safety to criticism of the Fire Chief. On Firehouse.com, Billy Goldfeder offers his opinion on the policy, as well as the larger issue of picking your battles against command decisions. Good reading, and even better as food for discussion.

Late Sunday update: our own paramedic blogger 9-ECHO-1 has also been posting about this subject. Read his first posting, then read his second posting. We know him as DJ, a frequent commenter on this blog. He's stayed on top of the issue, and has links to other Austin media that's covered the story. He also offers his own opinions, and pull no punches therein.

Anyone know about a medic unit involved in an accident yesterday? My cousin said he witnessed an wreck yesterday involving one. Is the medic ok?
AB - 08/23/09 - 13:51

Whats the points of having lights and sirens!?
Mind as well buy some minivans for the FD/EMS in Austin. There gonna get to a scene as bout as fast as ya could in one!
Cole Rickels (Email) - 08/23/09 - 18:05

I think that Chief Kerr is possibly going to re-write some of the policy to allow ‘discretion’ on the subject of speed limits, based on some of the reports in the Austin media. After all, Texas law does allow up to 10 mph over the limit. But in one of the reports, she says that if you get in a crash and it’s your fault, then you are probably on your own. As it should be.

But it all goes to one thing I have noticed. That is that in no EMS protocols or policies, nor in any fire department SOP/SOG have I ever seen the phrase or term “Drive real fast”. And unfortunately, you do not have to look far to see examples of people, in EMS, the fire service, and in law enforcement, that apparently believe they have seen it written somewhere.

Watch the news. Way too many of us are getting hurt and killed every year responding to calls. And there is always someone else, in another vehicle, that suffers as well. And way too many times, it’s because we are driving too fast.

To me, if you are in town, then 10 mph over the limit is pushing the limit a little too far.

As to the rule about stop lights and stop signs, I agree 100%. Before you proceed through any intersection where you have a red light or stop sign, you should come to a complete stop and not proceed until the way is clear, meaning that all other traffic has stopped.

All it will take is one fire truck, ambulance, or police car to breeze through an intersection and smack a minivan driven by a soccer mom taking her kids and their friends to the movies for a birthday party.

It’s not our fault that the world is combustible and stuff does burn. Nor is it our fault that some people do in fact die. This despite our best intentions and efforts.

So slow down.

Stop at the stop lights and stop signs.

And as Chief Goldfeder says- pick your battles.
DJ (Email) (Web Site) - 08/23/09 - 19:46

Thanks Dale. I have updated my posting with links to your blog, and your expanded comments on this issue.

How do citizen expectations affect this issue? Reading reader comments in the Austin American-Statesman, it sounds like Mr. and Mrs. Six Pack entirely expect fire and EMS vehicles to be racing to scenes as quickly as possible. Do the phones ever ring “downtown,” reporting engines or ambulances driving unsafe? Or does the general public give fire and EMS driving a free pass, if you will?
Legeros - 08/23/09 - 21:08

You make your time getting to a call by getting out of the station quickly not flying down the road. That is a proven fact. Lights and siren benefit you during congested intersections and heavy traffic, but you still are not going but so fast. If you are on a fire dept. (volunteer or paid) just so you can drive a big red fire truck with lights fast get off now before you hurt someone.
gen3fire - 08/23/09 - 21:20

Amen KC, get your butt out of the house faster and you’ll be Johnny On the Spot!
Silver - 08/23/09 - 23:02

Mr & Mrs Six Pack have three speeds when it comes to emergency vehicles-

1. When they see you driving down the street, you’re driving too fast.
2. When you pass them on the road, you’re driving way too fast.
3. When you are coming to their “emergency” it is not physically possible to drive fast enough. That is, until you wreck. Then it is automatically your fault because you were driving too fast.

Silver and gen3fire are correct- you make up for response time by turnout time. THings like your station is engineered to get you from your quarters to your apparatus. Things like when you get into the vehicle you start and go, because you know where you are going because you are familiar with your response area, not having to stop, look it up in the map book, or figure out where the computer is sending you.

So when you pull out into traffic, slow down, stop at red lights and stop signs, sit down, buckle up, stow everything away, etc.
DJ (Email) (Web Site) - 08/23/09 - 23:53

AB – one of the APP units was struck by a driver who did not yield at NC 55 and US 1 on Saturday. The medic unit was stopped or nearly stopped, clearning the intersection at the time of the collision. The paramedic operating the vehicle is fine. The driver of the other vehicle was transported as a precaution. Thanks for asking.
CHIEF 100 (Email) - 08/24/09 - 13:55

Chief 100-Thanks. Glad to hear your folks are ok.
AB - 08/24/09 - 17:21

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