4 personal vehicle response tips for firefighters

Read and follow your department’s policies on POV use, and drive safely

A 2014 State of Wisconsin Supreme Court decision ruled that a volunteer firefighter "could be liable for injuries sustained in a resulting car accident." After stopping at a red light with flashing lights activated on his personal vehicle, the firefighter collided with another vehicle at the intersection. Because he wasn’t using an audible warning device, as called for in Wisconsin statute, the court ruled that he wasn’t “entitled to public officer immunity.”

On May 5, 2020, FirefighterCloseCalls.com reported a volunteer firefighter, 18, was ejected from his truck in a single-vehicle collision while responding to a medical call. 

In light of the risk of injuring yourself and others, as well as the possibility of additional damages that might result from a lawsuit for liability and negligence, significant caution is needed when responding in your privately owned vehicle (POV) to an EMS or fire call. Here are a few ways you can protect yourself.

Your top POV response goal isn't to beat the ambulance. Your goal is to arrive safely to the scene.
Your top POV response goal isn't to beat the ambulance. Your goal is to arrive safely to the scene. (Photo / Greg Friese)

1. Follow policy and common sense

Read and understand your state’s statutes and department’s policies for POV response and emergency vehicle operations. If, after doing so, you question whether the rules are actually appropriate to the risks involved in driving, you might choose to personally follow more stringent guidelines.

2. Exercise due regard

Mumbling “I will practice due regard” is the emergency vehicle operator course equivalent of muttering “scene safe and BSI” at the start of an EMT class patient assessment station. Explain to yourself and others (like your spouse and children) specifically what “due regard” looks and sounds like.

The conversation about driving with due regard should include these important points:

  • Driving at or under the speed limit
  • Staying in your lane
  • Approaching all intersections defensively
  • Rarely attempting to pass other vehicles 

Really dig in to “due regard” as it might apply to your POV, response area and the loved ones waiting for you to come home from every call.

3. Don’t be reckless

I can hardly believe I need to remind you of this, but always wear a seatbelt and put your smartphone out of sight and out of reach while responding in your POV. Voice-activated smartphone texting and hands-free calling can be just as distracting.

If the responding ambulance or other emergency response vehicles are about to overtake you, let them by. Move over, let them pass, check your mirrors and safely return to the travel lane. Slow down and get to the scene safely.

4. Focus

Anytime I read a report of an emergency responder severely injured or killed in a single-vehicle rollover, I assume they were ejected after overcorrecting from a distraction or excessive speed. Be focused on the task at hand — driving your POV at a higher speed than normal.

In the end, if “chute time,” the time from dispatch to ambulance en route to the incident, is critical in your community, the best solution is to stage responders at the station. No amount of POV warning lights and sirens, public education campaigns, legislative changes or other efforts will have as significant an impact on chute time as having people at the station awaiting the next call. 

This article, originally published August 15, 2013, has been updated.

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