Study: Motorists Don't Move For Mich. Responders

Feb. 02--WEST MICHIGAN -- Whether it's running into a burning building or chasing after an armed robber, firefighters and police officers can find themselves in dangerous and life-threatening positions from time to time.

The officers and firefighter that we spoke with said the most common occurrence of danger comes while trying to get to some of the most routine emergency calls.

FOX 17 wanted to know just how many people do not yield the right-of-way when an emergency vehicle activates the lights and sirens.

In order to get a unique perspective, we equiped Kalamazoo Public Safety Officer Anthony Carpita's police cruiser with cameras inside and out to see the reaction of the officer and other drivers as he answers emergency calls.

We did the same thing with a Grand Rapids fire engine operated by Lt. Brian Deforest, Equipment Operator Gary Dredge and Firefighter Dave Belzen.

What we saw and heard in two different cities was very similar. When the lights and sirens are activated both Carpita and the firefighters from Grand Rapids keep a close eye out for the unexpected.

"It doesn't do you a lot of good if you crash your car or hurt somebody else when you are going to an emergency," said Carpita.

"We know that we can't help anyone if we don't get there. We want to get there quickly but we have to get there safely," said Deforest.

Deforest has the advantage of being one of two people in the front seat, giving the firefighters in the engine an extra set of eyes on the other drivers.

Deforest said, "From our view up here we can see a lot of what is going on and you do see a lot of people on their cell phones, a lot of people don't realize that we're anywhere near."

Dredge, from behind the wheel of the fire engine, finished the thought. "By the time that we are close enough that they can see or hear us we startle them, they don't know what to think at that point."

As firefighters make their way around the city, responding to calls, we encounter many drivers who slow down, pull the right and come to a stop as they are supposed to. During those same calls, we also saw drivers who seem oblivious to sights and sounds of the engine baring down on them.

"They say that it's the second most likely way that we will die right behind heart attacks it's getting in a vehicle accident on the way," Deforest said.

This past fall in Grand Rapids an ambulance collided with another vehicle while responding to a call. Last year, two police cruisers collided with one another while responding to the same emergency.

While riding along with Officer Carpita, we didn't respond to any shoot-outs or high speed chases, just routine fire and police calls on snow covered roads which provided it's own challenges.

Carpita said, "If I'm going right now and this car in front of me locks up and panics, I got to go around in the incoming lane."

We saw example after example on the road one driver will obey the law, pull over to the right and come to a stop, while others either brake in front of us or continue through an intersection as we attempt to cross.

Officer Carpita says there was one time when he actually issued a ticket to a driver who wouldn't get out of his way.

"I did that once," he said. "I was going to a fire and this one guy would not get out of the way, so I turned around and found that guy and gave him a ticket."

The fine for not yielding to an emergency vehicle can cost drivers $153.00 and four points on your driving record.

Copyright 2012 - WXMI-TV, Grand Rapids, Mich.