Firefighters in Queens Won’t Rush to All Calls

A million times a year, fire trucks are driven into the streets of New York City, usually at breakneck speeds with lights and sirens blaring. The rush is often critical: Firefighters converge on fires, douse the flames and save lives. The same response applies in less serious situations — calls that are not life-threatening, which are expected to reach around 230,000 this year after steadily rising from 41,054 in 1969. But with 35-ton rigs barreling through red lights and forcing traffic off the roads or through busy intersections, accidents occur, sometimes with deadly consequences. Nearly 700 times last year, the city’s fire trucks collided with other vehicles and, occasionally, with one another. Now, for the first time, the Fire Department is re-engineering its approach: Its plan, set to begin on Monday as a three-month pilot program in Queens, is meant to slow firefighters’ responses to certain calls by having them turn off their lights and sirens and follow the usual traffic rules.

(Read the entire New York Times story...)


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I have a couple thoughts, points of view on code 3 driving. Yes being that it's the highest fatality rate in the fire service with "human caused" factors. I believe that something needs to be addressed.

There is a point where code 3 is pointless and heavy traffic is one of them. Even being in a rural and small town area I have shut down due to what little traffic I run into. Sometimes also with the information given I won't respond code 3 at all even if it's current practice to do so.


Another thought is it sounds like there's something missing in their training. That would be the instilling the mindset of driving safely and providing them with ways to be safer on the road.


It's 2010, we're past the traditions of past generations. SLOW DOWN! If you don't make it to the scene, then you can't fight fire. You've taken a unit out of service for who knows how long and will tie up additional units to deal with your crash. For small fire depts, they can't afford the loss of units, or stand to loose the unit while it's out for repair.


And in closing.........If you crash and someone dies, imagine the trauma you cause your fire dept, the family of the dead, and the torment of knowing YOU KILLED SOMEONE that lasts the rest of your life.


Drive smart

It depends where you work.  We always do it because we are in an urban environment with some of the worst traffic in the country.  Queens is doing the study because traffic isn't as bad as somewhere like Manhattan.  Remember its just a study.  They aren't sure if it works yet.


One big argument is what if someone really does need help but no one is around to respond because they are still on another run that would be been over if it wouldn't have taken them 45 minutes to go 5 miles in traffic.  You also never know if it's really an emergency.  I could get dispatched for one thing and it's completely different when I get there.  


Remember that just because we respond with lights and sirens doesn't mean that we are driving like crazy people.  What if I drive lights and sirens and never get above 15mph?  Is that more dangerous than driving without it but going 65mph in a more rural area?  You can't just say yes or no.  You have to look at what's needed for that department.  I think that we need it and driving 15mph with it isn't that dangerous when you weigh out the pros and cons.

True, I didn't get into detail on my support for code 3 responses, although people still drive too fast, blow red lights and stop signs without regard to the potential for crashing.


So, I do believe we still need to respond code 3, but there's some work to do on people to make driving safer.

  It's the old story of calling wolf, you know you've been there a dozen wasteful times but the time you don't know the rest. I agree that the cure is to teach and enforce safe driving techniques.balls to the walls is never the correct response.

Since when  does Code 3 response mean high speed and blowing through intersections?  Code 3 is running with lights and sirens on , period. It does not alleviate us from driving with due regard to the safety of other drivers, pedestrians or our crews.-- ever. 


I agree there are times that just running sirens causes other drivers to do something stupid, put frankly these are usually drivers that don't need much encouragement on doing something stupid.  And  for inexperienced fire dept drivers running sirens can increase heart rate and cause a false sense of security. I don't like my folks running the sirens in a continuous mode (we are a rural dept) but run them when approaching controlled intersections or other traffic. This puts us in control versus just turning the sirens on when the bay doors open until we arrive.  It also means the guys looking out the windshield have to be more alert and not just assume the sirens will clear the way safely.


For us  when running just  lights we obey all traffic laws and proceed only when given the right of way by other drivers. This mode has proven to be very useful in getting other traffic to give us the right of way and allow for a quicker response.  Sometimes shaving 8-10 % off our response time.  (a 35,000 engine losses a lot of momentum on a 6-8 % grade when slowing for other traffic)   When running lights and sirens we still stop at all controlled intersections and only exceed the posted speed limit by a maximum of 10 mph  (which means we still get passed--especially by cops responding to the same call) .   This doesn't  improve response times above lights only except in rare cases and only by a couple %.   But if running above the speed limit we still MUST exercise due regard to the safety of others on the road.


Advantages of responding with even just lights is that  1. it warns traffic of a potential hazard up ahead, 2. ensures lights are on when we arrive and are blocking right of way or sitting near the road edge, 3. moves over slow moving traffic  (we have long steep hills in our district) , increases our visibility around tight curves and narrow roads to get other traffic to move over a little and slow down


There are times that neither lights nor siren is required but 98% of those times we didn't know until we arrived. 


I don't think the answer is eliminating code  responses  but in driving intelligently when we are. 

I think you can quote statistics and cite examples all you want. The reason these things happen should be common sense to every firefighter:

  1. Drivers (and in some cases, Company officers) get tunnel vision; always concentrating on getting to an incident as fast as possible rather than as safely as possible. Use those lights and sirens and use them extensively.
  2. The Company Officer has the responsibility to insure that the vehicle is still being operated in a safe manner. He is the one responsible for the crew.
  3. There are other people using the road that may not know you're coming! You must respect everybody on the road. They'll yield when they can.

We think that lights and Sirens give us the right to drive fast and ignore others...


"We" do not think that. The purpose of the the lights and sirens is to warn and alert. It does not give us any right to do anything per say. It's there to (hopefully) minimize the problems that come along with other drivers that may not be aware of the apparatus on the roadway, which is why they should be used as much as (reasonably) possible.


And, I also do agree that driver training is paramount. But it surely is not a sole factor.

there's some work to do on people to make driving safer.


Company Officer or apparatus officer's responsibility to be aware of a driver's unsafe actions and correct it on the spot. That crew is his responsibility.



Code 3 doesn't mean that it's OK to drive irresponsibly - great point.




Maybe the time to consider CDL class licenses in addition to EVOC training has come around.

Am not in the dept. right now, but where is the blame on the drivers? They know in the state driving manual that when they see a emergency vehicle to move to the right of the road or if they can not move to the right then to the left and give said vehicle the right of way. Am from Brooklyn, and yes there is alot of traffic in NYC, but if your house is on fire or your child or loved one needs help are you think "I hope the FDNY is taking there time or I hope they are following the rules of the road". I think not!

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