MOUNT VERNON — Knowing the right thing to do when a fire engine or emergency vehicle is behind you in traffic, and taking the safe and appropriate action to yield to emergency traffic can help keep everyone on the road safer.
When an emergency vehicle approaches with lights and siren on, the law requires drivers to move to the right as quickly and safely as possible.
Each year, hundreds of firefighters are killed in preventable traffic accidents, often caused by other drivers who failed to yield the right of way while a fire engine or ambulance is speeding to an emergency.
Even when traveling with lights and sirens, emergency vehicles must, by law, use due diligence to ensure safety, slowing down at intersections and not using excessive speed.
Mount Vernon Fire Capt. Joe Jurkowitz, a veteran firefighter and paramedic, said he and his crew are very aware of the traffic dangers they face from other drivers when responding in an emergency.
We see it on a regular basis,” Jurkowitz said. “Probably the biggest two things that we see are people running red lights and people that are in the left turn lanes [who fail to yield.]”
Because fire trucks and squads will try to go around traffic to the left, drivers in the turn lane pose a special hazard.
“When they get in that left turn lane it makes us really nervous,” Jurkowitz said.
If it is unsafe or impossible to get to the right, it is best to stay stopped and not try to speed ahead out of the way.
“The safest thing when you see us, is to pull to the right,” Jurkowitz said, adding fire trucks weigh thousands of pounds and are loaded with a thousand gallons of water. “Don’t try to beat us; it’s like trying to beat a train.”
Drivers talking on their cellphones or texting do not always realize when they need to get out of the path of an emergency vehicle.
Paying attention to traffic and always getting to the right as soon as is safely possible when an emergency vehicle approaches with its lights and sirens on, is the safest way to share the road with the vehicles which respond to emergencies.