Drivers creating problems for first responders

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Reported by: Sara Whaley
Updated: 11/15/2013 10:19 am Published: 11/14/2013 7:13 pm

First responders take a lot of heat for their response times, but FOX23 is learning drivers are at least partly to blame.

We spent some time with Tulsa Fire to get a better idea of what firefighters go through on a daily basis.

They are on guard, waiting to jump at a moment's notice.

"It's normal for somebody to need us there in a matter of minutes," firefighter Nick Swainston told FOX23.

"Seconds are counting," Chief Mike Mallory added.

They are racing to save lives and put out burning buildings, which means trouble for everyone if drivers are in the way.

"Every run we go on, we have a problem with a driver," Swainston said.

FOX23 rode along with Tulsa Fire Station 27 to see the problem.

It's hard for the truck to even leave the station. We counted at least four times where the lights and sirens were on, and cars continued to pass.

Swainston has driven the truck for 17 years. He told FOX23 it doesn't get any better once they hit the streets.

"Drivers either freeze, lock up in the middle of the intersection, lock up in the middle of the road, or they pull off to the left," he said.

We saw a perfect example when a car driving in front of a firetruck suddenly slammed on the brakes instead of pulling to the right.

People don't realize just how big firetrucks are and that their cars are often hidden from the firetruck driver's sight.

Someone in a car next to a firetruck has to drive at least 20 feet forward for the driver to be able to fully see the car, and firefighters said that may be too late, because the trucks don't stop easily.

In fact, Mallory told FOX23 it takes three times as long as a car.

"We've got some very aggressive brakes on these vehicles, so they're not just stock, but it takes a long, long time. It's much like a train, they just don't stop," Mallory said.

There's more. If you're in oncoming traffic, you aren't off the hook.

FOX23 spotted three out of four cars drive past a firetruck on the way to a house fire.

Drivers need to pull to the right even when they are in opposite lanes because sometimes firetrucks have to cross over, especially at intersections.

So why is it so difficult to just pull to the right?

"They're either listening to the radio, talking on the phone, or texting," Swainston said.

Or they're looking at the emergency.

On one call we saw a firetruck have to go out and around traffic to get to the fire because there was a line of cars with drivers gawking at the scene.

Some of it is out of your hands, though. Cars are made to be "sound proof" now.

That's why Mallory and his crew have spent years finding the right combination and placement of lights to catch drivers' attention.

"We place the lights where it will get into the drivers' mirrors. Not to blind them, but to give them a quick warning that we are coming," Mallory said.

Most importantly, first responders ask drivers to be aware of their surroundings, because it could mean life or death for someone else.

"That's the worst feeling in the world … going on a house fire with a possible rescue and somebody wrecks in front of you," Swainston said.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KOKI FOX23 - Tulsa

Mayor Maynot - 11/18/2013 7:41 AM
0 Votes
CCCNB4 #8 ^]] that just plain will not work. EMT's are on a mission to save lives god bless them and protect them from tragedy while on their way to save the world from idiots like you. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a police car randomly attach it's route to an Emergency responders route to ticket drivers who don't know how to get out of the (expletive) way.

Mayor Maynot - 11/18/2013 7:26 AM
0 Votes
Many drivers feel like it is NOT their responsibility to yield right of way to emergency responders. I live right next to the freeway and I see it all the time.

CCNB4 - 11/16/2013 8:49 AM
0 Votes
They should be able to plow threw traffic. Then make those drives pay for any damages to the trucks. Yeah a few people will get hurt but once people realize the emergency vehicles are serious they will pay more attention. Sorry but being nice does not always get you very far. Any time I see a emergency vehicles I treat it like they are going for my house or my family. I do everything in my power to get out of the way!

karlschneider - 11/15/2013 6:59 PM
0 Votes
No person ever lost a cent underestimating the intelligence of the average Okie driver.

quiet1234 - 11/15/2013 11:12 AM
0 Votes
They should get those rumblers some towns have on their emergencies vehicles that will send out a vibrating tone, you would feel them coming

TulsaCowboy - 11/15/2013 10:02 AM
1 Vote
I have said it before that the emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks need dash camera that run when they are on a call. If someone doesn't get out of the way a picture of the tag is taken and they get a ticket in the mail.Yes the cameras would cost significant money but maybe the fines could be used to off-set the cost plus this may make people more aware of getting out of the way.

stretmediq - 11/15/2013 9:27 AM
2 Votes
I remember once we were running hot west on I44 around Harvard in heavy traffic with an 18 wheeler in front of us. He got over as soon as he could but when he did a lady in a red car in front of him was then able to see us so she slammed on her brakes. We had enough room that we could stop in time to avoid hitting her but we were then hit from BEHIND by a van even though we had our lights and sirens on and then the van was also hit from behind by another car
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