Response Guidelines For Private Vehicles

Often, as I go around the country, firefighters will ask me to offer recommendations on procedures and protocols that a particular department may have. Conversely, in traveling around the country, I have observed a variety of ways to do a particular task...


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Often, as I go around the country, firefighters will ask me to offer recommendations on procedures and protocols that a particular department may have. Conversely, in traveling around the country, I have observed a variety of ways to do a particular task. To this end I offer to you a set of generic guidelines for the operation of firefighters' personal vehicles in responding to the fire station or to the scene of a fire or other emergency.

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Photo by Michael Wilbur
One of the more unusual examples of a volunteer firefighter's private vehicle. Whether they respond to fire stations or directly to scenes, operators must be aware of their responsibilities.

Several recent events make this an important issue. In New Jersey a firefighter responding in his personal vehicle to a pull box in a school killed two civilians. This response turned out to be a false alarm. In Maryland a firefighter responding in his personal vehicle crossed a double yellow line at an estimated 80 mph and crashed head-on into a van, killing one civilian and critically injuring another.

It is not uncommon for me to receive reports of firefighters driving through red lights and stop signs in personal vehicles. Yes, I have even received a complaint about a firefighter going around a stopped school bus that had its red lights flashing. Hopefully, these generic guidelines will be a starting point for your department to develop a policy statement in regards to this driving problem.

Some of the information used here can be found in a pamphlet, Alive On Arrival, distributed by the U.S. Fire Administration. The author of the pamphlet is Bill Troupe, who did a great job in helping to address personal vehicle response safety. The pamphlet is free and is available by calling Bill at 800-238-3358. Other information used is contained in the National Emergency Vehicle Operators Guide.

Standard Operating Guidelines: Responding In Your Private, Non-Emergency Vehicle

When responding to the station or scene of an emergency in a private vehicle, all applicable motor vehicle laws must be strictly adhered to. Privately owned non-emergency vehicles are not granted any exemptions to the vehicle traffic laws that apply to authorization emergency vehicles. PRIVATE VEHICLES ARE NOT EMERGENCY VEHICLES AND THEREFORE ARE NOT AFFORDED ANY EXEMPTIONS OR SPECIAL PRIVILEGES UNDER STATE LAW.

Due to the stress that a timely response generates, you need to make an extra conscious effort to operate your vehicle in a safe manner. You should pay close attention to:

  1. Speed limits and road, weather and light conditions.
  2. Intersections with and without control devices.
  3. Passing and turning.

If you are allowed some type and color of identification light (for example, in New York State a blue or green light), you must comply with your state's vehicle and traffic laws as well as rules and regulations covering the size, type and candle power of the light.

Remember that you are representing your emergency response organization and drawing attention to yourself when you respond with a colored light operating on your vehicle. (Note: In some states a privately owned vehicle properly equipped and operated could be considered an authorized emergency vehicle; consult your state's vehicle and traffic laws.)

You can be held criminally and civilly liable if an accident were to occur while you are on duty as an emergency responder. The agency for which you work can also be brought into a lawsuit if the case can be made that you were improperly or inadequately instructed, or no effort was made to control unsafe or reckless operation when responding.

When parking at the scene, keep your vehicle as far away as reasonably possible and in a safe position; try to keep the vehicles on one side of the street and, if possible, out of the street.

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