Fire captain says not enough drivers are doing what they
Continuing in our "A Word With The Captain"
series, KHTS sat down with Los Angeles County Fire Captain Dave Petersen, who
runs fire station 124 in Stevenson Ranch.
Captain Petersen and his squad respond to many calls each
day, and every time they are summoned, a person's well being is dependent on
them arriving quickly.
Sometimes that's complicated by traffic or motorists' behavior.
Rather than point any fingers, Captain Petersen thinks that
a large number of motorists just need to know the truth about what to do when
an emergency vehicle approaches.
"The law states; ‘pull to the right and stop,'" he said.
Fire, police and medical rescue crews are trained to ONLY
pass to the left of vehicles and therefore all civilian cars are required to
pull to the right safely whenever an emergency vehicle approaches. This includes
vehicles approaching from behind or in front of your car, even if they are on
the opposite side of the street.
Pulling to the right makes it easier on the driver of the emergency
vehicle because they don't have to guess where you're going or what move you
will make when they get close.
The idea of pulling to the right is designed not just for
the victim in need, but for the emergency crews and motorists' safety as well.
"When we respond, we're ultimately responsible for our
actions, so we really try not to put anyone in harm's way," Petersen told KHTS.
But the Captain knows that when his crews come barreling
down the street, drivers get frazzled. Sometimes their eagerness to get out of
the way creates an even bigger problem.
"Having a big red fire engine pull up behind you with lights
and sirens blaring is not something that happens to you every day," he said. "So
people start thinking ‘ok, I'm supposed to pull to the right but I'm trapped
between cars.' So we see people who will try to go through a red light…and that's
dangerous, we really don't want you to do that."
Capt. Petersen says that the best thing for motorists to do
in that situation is to just wait until the light changes, and then move to the
right when you can do so safely. His fire engine will likely turn off their
lights and wait right behind you because they don't want to force you into a
Speed is also an issue in Santa Clarita.
Emergency vehicles will frequently cross intersections
against a red light. To do so, they creep out slowly to make sure everyone sees
them. If cars are traveling at a high rate of speed however, it complicates an
already difficult task.
"Cross traffic is extremely fast," he says.
He went on to say that sometimes even a responsible driver
can become part of a traffic accident if others aren't paying attention.
"If one person sees us and decides to stop, and the person
behind them doesn't, then this is when we start having incidents occur because
we're trying to do our job."
Being stationed in Stevenson Ranch, Captain Petersen and his
fire fighters respond to many calls on the freeway. Often of there is an
accident, traffic will be backed up tremendously leaving only a small area on
the freeway shoulder for the emergency crews to get to the scene. When
motorists use the shoulder to bypass the traffic, they cut off the only available
The bottom line for Captain Petersen is simple; pay
attention, slow down and pull to the right. He holds to his predictions that if we all
practiced those safe driving techniques, we'd make life easier for everyone.