Lights, Sirens...Action!

This column is a component of VFIS' "Operation Safe Arrival" initiative, aimed at heightening safety awareness and reducing the frequency and severity of accidents involving emergency vehicles.

Chiefs, start the call out right - don't let your emergency vehicle operators commit "sirencide." If you've never heard the term before, "sirencide" describes the emotional reaction of emergency vehicle operators when they begin to feel a sense of power and urgency that blocks out reason and prudence. It often leads to reckless driving and increases as siren use increases.

Research has shown that the average response time saved by lights and siren use is 43 seconds. According to Dr. Jeff Clawson, President of Medical Priority Dispatch and founding father of the Emergency Medical Dispatch System, approximately 95 percent of all 911 EMS calls aren't life-threatening or even potentially life threatening. Of the rest, less than 3 percent turn out to be life-threatening or potentially life-threatening.

The key to appropriate use of lights and sirens is to develop sound operating procedures and guidelines that address this issue and serve as a basis for safe operation. As part of these guidelines, make it clear when warning devices should or should not be used. For example, you might use the following language:

  • Non-emergency response - When responding to a call in a non-emergency response mode (non-code 3 or when not responding to a true emergency), the vehicle will be operated without any audible or visual warning devices and in compliance with all state motor vehicle laws that apply to civilian traffic.
  • True emergency response - The definition of a true emergency is a situation in which there is a high probability of death or serious injury or significant property loss and actions by an emergency vehicle driver may reduce the seriousness of the situation. In this case, all audible and visual warning devices shall be operated at all times, regardless of time of day and/or traffic conditions. All emergency vehicle drivers must understand that warning devices are not always effective in making other vehicle operators aware of your presence.

It's also a good idea to educate the public about what to do when they see emergency vehicles with lights and sirens approaching. After all, everyone is a stakeholder in the emergency services system, from dispatchers and administrators to providers and members of your community. Developing, enforcing and evaluating sound policies and guidelines, educating your members about them and helping the public learn what to do will go a long way to ensuring that "sirencide" is no longer part of your vocabulary.