08/01/10 137 W - + 6 - 5 Slowing or Stopping?

Continuing our recent discussions on apparatus safety, here's a Sunday morning topic for your consideration1. When responding to structure fires2, and upon approaching stop signs or stop signals, do you slow and proceed? Nearly stop and proceed? Completely stop and proceed? Feel free to cite SOPs and what you do/don't do. 

If based on case, identify the factors. e.g., number of lanes, amount of traffic, sight lines, visibility, weather, etc. Ditto if there are variations to the call type. Smoke seen in distance. Heavy smoke seen in distance. Multiple calls reported by dispatcher. etc.

1Meta-discussion also permitted. How successfully can such a topic be discussed in public/targeted forums?

2Talking structure fires, as that's perhaps the highest excitement/adrenaline-causing call type, and thus perhaps the most likely to challenge judgment.

1. STOP at stop signals/ signs and try and make eye contact with the other drivers, no matter the type of call.
2. Don’t care what the SOP/SOG, policies, and NCGS say- my safety is paramount.

‘Based on case’? It should never matter. No matter the case, you cannot get into the mind of a teenage driver or soccer mom in the other vehicle. You HAVE to be prepared for what they are going to do, and the only way to be prepared for that is to stop at a stop sign or stop light.

“2Talking structure fires, as that’s perhaps the highest excitement/adrenaline-causing call type, and thus perhaps the most likely to challenge judgment.”

Really? Based upon what I have seen it matters not. All it takes is engagement of red/blue lights and sirens. I can be driving 45 in a 35 on the way to a sick call, chest pain, MVC, vehicle fire, house fire, etc. and if you are ‘walking away’ from me, you’re driving too fast.

Trust me, they’ll be there when you get there.
DJ (Email) (Web Site) - 08/01/10 - 13:20

I’ll be honest. It depends on the intersection, traffic and unfortionately the call type. If I am approaching the intersection and it is red I always let off the pedal. Depending on what the other cars are doing or appear to be doing determines my next action. If they aren’t stopped for me, or act like they even see me then I definitely come to a complete stop. If they are acknowledging me I may go ahead and hammer down again if I have a clear view of the playing field, or I may do the ol’ California roll through the stop light. In a neighborhood if no cars are around I almost always check up and roll through stop signs. I am more cautious in neighborhoods because of the unseen kid that may run out.

When discussing call type, there are calls where I will hammer down more or take more chances in traffic than for others. It isn’t an adrenaline thing as much as an urgency to get there. I think as you drive more you become more skilled but also more lazy about stuff at the same time. As I tell new drivers or fill in drivers. I can’t make them drive faster or encourage them to drive out of their comfort zone. I just have to deal with it, the only thing I can do when riding the seat is tell them to slow down if I think they are driving too fast or carelessly.
Mike - 08/01/10 - 18:41

Stop. Drive accordingly and appropriately. There is no alternative. Enough said. “DTRT”
A.C. Rich - 08/01/10 - 19:08

Perspective from a smaller, less visible vehicle if you may…

I think that all emergency drivers should practice what I like to call “assertive driving”. Sort of a mix of defensive yet aggressive in nature. The basics should always be taught and practiced such as coming to complete stops at locations where you do not have the right of way based on the traffic engineering (i.e. red lights, stop signs, intersections, etc.)

However, there will be circumstances you do not need to stop at a stop sign or red light if it is completely obvious that there are no interferences such as having zero traffic on the road or very, very long sight lines where you can clear an intersection before getting to it (but still slowing down and being ready so stop).

I think in general that fire trucks and ambulances can get away with more due to having more lights, louder sirens (double?) and real air horns. Plus being a giant box with a standout pattern or being immediately recognized as an emergency vehicle helps. People notice fire trucks and ambulances a lot quicker than a police car.

For me, I can vary an emergency response quite a bit being that I am in a smaller, more maneuverable car than say a fire truck. Generally, a fire truck doing an emergency response can’t really “step it up” more than what they are already doing…generally. But I can be in a “standard” emergency run to a call and if that call changes (say from a possible bank robbery upgraded to an officer involved in a shootout with the suspects) I can definitely step it up quite a few gears.

But, it all boils down to common sense. If you can obviously clear your intersections before arriving to it (being ready to still stop) then there is no need to literally stop. If you can’t, then use that think between your ears and clear that intersection.
RPD - 08/01/10 - 20:40

One should ALWAYS follow traffic laws and departmental S.O.G./regulations. Having said that, we all know that doesn’t happen, even with the most seasoned driver. Having driven different types of apparatus and having been a police officer and driven “10-39” more times than I can count in both positions (LE and FF), I can say that situational and positional awareness is paramount. You have to know where you are, what time of day it is, and what else is around you at all times. The type of call really does make a difference in your adrenaline pump but we all need to remember that we do no good if we don’t get there. Law enforcement has an advantage in the size and maneuverability of their vehicles, but they lack the size and, frequently, the lighting and markings to ID them to other drivers. Large fire and EMS apparatus have the advantage of size for sheer “bullying”. The problem is, you just never know what’s going to “come out of nowhere”, even if you have long sight lines. Personally, when I actually get to drive and I’m in response mode, I actually check up at green lights and larger intersections because, even though I have the right-of-way by traffic control devices, you never know what soccer mom, distraught lover, or suicidal maniac is going to come barreling into the area. We’ve all seen examples where our warning devices do absolutely no good. People either don’t know, don’t care, or are shielded by their vehicle’s construction or interior distractions (radio, child, phone, nav, etc.) that even when you’re 10 feet off their bumper with dual 100 watt sirens, air horns, and a fully-wound “Q”, they are oblivious to your presence.

Point is, to me, drive defensively and with “due regard” for the folks around you, but even more so for the ones in your cab with you. If you crash a QRV, Chief’s Buggy, or LE vehicle, it may not do a lot of damage. If you crash a fire engine, EMS truck, etc., it can become exponentially worse.

Just my opinions.
Duda - 08/02/10 - 08:55

Like Duda said, I think one of the more important and often overlooked aspects of safe emergent driving is being prepared to stop when you have the green light. You listed a bunch of good reasons to do it, but another common one is someone making a right on a red light into the direction the truck is going. They will pull up to the intersection, see no one is moving across them (because they stopped for emergency vehicles) and then pull out and turn. Even worse when they swing it wide into the far lane.
Joey - 08/02/10 - 10:20

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