New driving policies irk Austin firefighters

Written by Andrew Traub

August 21, 2009

Austin firetrucks now must drive the speed limit and come to a complete stop at intersections while responding to calls, according to a new city policy that has upset the firefighters union.

Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said the policy is intended to improve safety for firefighters and motorists. But Steven Truesdell, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, said firefighters’ discretion is being unnecessarily curtailed, possibly increasing response times.  “It appears to be a way for the fire chief to shift more responsibility on the individual firefighter,” Truesdell said.

Under previous policies, firefighters could drive up to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. At intersections, they were not required to stop but were instructed to make sure drivers were aware that they needed to get through.

As a practical matter, firefighters were already stopping at stoplights and intersections before proceeding, fire officials said. And because of traffic congestion, they said, fire engines rarely are able to drive much over the speed limit.

Kerr and other Fire Department officials said the new policy, which took effect Aug. 11, will not affect response times.

“It is all about making sure that everyone goes home,” Kerr said. “It helps. keep our people safer—not only the firefighters, but the community as well.”

Department spokeswoman Michelle DeCrane said the new policy is based largely on a 2003 report in EMS Responder magazine on response data from several studies, including ones in Syracuse, N.Y., Minneapolis, and the state of North Carolina.

The report concluded that EMS vehicles traveling at the speed limit and stopping at intersections basically having to obey the rules the Fire Department just put in place drove more safely and experienced significant delays only in isolated instances.

Truesdell said any delays could be significant. He said firetruck drivers should not be required to stop at intersections if traffic is light and the crew determines there is no chance of a collision.

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3 Comments

  1. David

    The absolute best response to this kind of nonsense policy, at least that I have ever seen, was in Little Rock Arkansas back in the early 80's, during the Clinton years as best I recall. The City of Little Rock made the rule that ALL emergency vehicles had to abide by traffic laws including speed limits and traffic lights…even stop signs! It didn’t take long before they had they had the first death directly attributable to the new policy, i.e., EMS was just a little too late. The Pulaski County Sheriff went television, radio, and in newspapers putting the word out that ANYTIME an emergency vehicle needed an escort through the city to contact his office and it would be TOP PRIORITY. Of course the city told him that he couldn't do that, but he simply replied that the city was inside his county and therefore he actually could. The Sheriff's decision stood as a higher authority and the city was forced to back down from a less than intelligent policy. Just a thought.

    Reply
  2. Rubywow

    The new policies sound so interesting. Yes, the key is to make sure everyone is going home safe and sound. It's kinda hard for firefighters to make sure every time that drivers are aware that they need to get through. If they get involved in an accident, it's more complicated for an Austin injury attorneyto fight for his client.

    Reply
  3. Rubywow

    The new policies sound so interesting. Yes, the key is to make sure everyone is going home safe and sound. It's kinda hard for firefighters to make sure every time that drivers are aware that they need to get through. If they get involved in an accident, it's more complicated for an Austin injury attorney to fight for his client.

    Reply

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