National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: Safe Driving and Intersections

Multi-unit responses require all units to have an awareness of each other’s response routes. When the units are from different agencies, and possibly using different radio systems, the likelihood of an unintentional encounter is elevated. Place those units on intersecting streets, and you can end up with this week’s featured firefighter near-miss report.

“While responding to a medical call with lights and sirens activated on the engine, we experienced a near miss with the responding ambulance from another agency. Our city has signal preemption devices on the street lights, where a light on the engine triggers the stop light to turn green and all other directions to turn red…In this near miss, we had the intersection locked up with a green signal light and the solid white light illuminated. Approximately 200 feet before the intersection, the responding ambulance came into the intersection.”

Traffic signal preemption devices have a proven history of providing emergency vehicles with safe passage through congested areas. Drivers are conditioned to stop for red lights; or are they? Even the casual observance of today’s driving environment finds red lights being run many seconds past the light turning red. The theory behind traffic signal preemption devices is sound; the reaction of the other drivers overrides the system’s best intentions. Consider the following:

  1. Do the drivers of your agency complete an emergency vehicle driving course before being permitted to drive?
  2. Is your department’s intersection policy the same as other agencies in your response area?
  3. What is an underlying message conveyed about intersections in this report?
  4. It appears the EMS unit in this near miss is not equipped with traffic signal preemption technology, or their system was overridden by the engine gaining control of the intersection first. If you were discussing this event with the EMS agency supervisor, what would be some of your key discussion points?
  5. List five habits that drive emergency responders to run red lights. How many of these habits are inherent (internal to the driver) and how many are learned (passed on from observed behaviors)?   

The critical factor in emergency response is navigating traffic for a safe arrival. Even with the technological advances offered by traffic signal preemption devices the intersection is a hazardous location. As emergency responders, getting there is more than half the challenge. The public is unable to get assistance if the responding assets end up in a pile of twisted metal several blocks from the scene.

Have you ever had a near miss at an intersection? Submit your report to www.firefighternearmiss.com today so everyone goes home tomorrow. For more on the value of firefighter near-miss reporting, CLICK HERE.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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