AUSTIN, Texas - Some union leaders question a new Austin city policy that says firetrucks responding to calls must drive the speed limit and fully stop at intersections.
Austin Fire Department Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said the policy is meant to improve safety for firefighters and motorists.
But Steven Truesdell, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, told the Austin American-Statesman that firefighters' discretion is being curtailed.
"We don't understand if they have some impetus for making these changes," Truesdell said. "They haven't discussed it with us."
Previously, Austin firefighters could drive up to 10 mph over the posted speed limit. Vehicles were not required to stop at intersections, but operators were told to make sure other drivers knew the emergency vehicles needed to proceed.
Kerr said she does not believe that the policy, which took effect Aug. 11, will 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."
The new policy is based largely on a 2003 report in EMS Responder magazine, fire department spokeswoman Michelle DeCrane said. The report concluded EMS vehicles going the speed limit and stopping at intersections were operated safer and had limited significant delays.
The change is part of a department-wide effort to turn informal practices into formal policy, DeCrane said.
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i hate to say it this way but the law says you can do anything you want as long as you do with due regard to perssonell and property. the fire chief is not driving therefore is not charged. yes in this sue happy world they will be listed but we as the older ff and the instructors need to hand down this common sense that we talk about and self regulate the fire service or the saftey gooorooos will hand down theirs. my chief just handed down a set of sop's stating we will stop at all intersections and not go more than 10 mph over the posted speed. see here we have a problem. the law puts the blame on the driver and should he is driving, but as said before by stopping we confuse the public and cause problems so now we have to educate the public all over. than lets define an intersection. again granny grunts is out to get us and will if we don't drive defensivly all the time. as mentioned before the cars, stereo's phones ect. have nullified the Q and air horn and in the city where stations are 3-5 miles apart time will not play that big of a roll but NFPA has limited tankers to i belive 62 mph and they run long runs where time can be made with rolling stops and higher speeds. this was done because of the weight and the amount of wrecks. if you look at ff deaths you will find that more vol. die in wrecks than paid and more tankers than engines. I AM NOT GOING TO APOLIGIZE BUT YOU CAN'T LEGISLATE STUPID. we must find and there is a middle ground that looks at the lost at the fire, at the response and at the station and comes with a unhappy medium. i say unhappy because if we are born we will die it is that we don't want this to happen on duty because the bean counters are going to lose beans to count ect. there is more but i will stop
i said i will stop but her is one more. what does texas state law say about stopping at a green light. is this impeading traffic and or parking illegally. now the guy gets rearended or causes a wake wreck is the fire dept. not responsible.
Basically, an authorized emergency vehicle may disregard all movement and direction of travel, and that would include coming to a stop on a green light. The municipality may enact ordinances stricter than state law.
TRANSPORTATION CODE TITLE 7. CHAPTER 546. OPERATION OF AUTHORIZED EMERGENCY VEHICLES AND CERTAIN OTHER VEHICLES
In operating an authorized emergency vehicle the operator may:
(1) park or stand, irrespective of another provision of this subtitle;
(2) proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, after slowing as necessary for safe operation;
(3) exceed a maximum speed limit, except as provided by an ordinance adopted under Section 545.365, as long as the operator does not endanger life or property; and
(4) disregard a regulation governing the direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
Sec.A546.005. DUTY OF CARE.A This chapter does not relieve the operator of an authorized emergency vehicle from:
(1) the duty to operate the vehicle with appropriate regard for the safety of all persons; or
(2) the consequences of reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The following subchapter has been upheld in the courts to include municipalities, and Emergency Services Districts. So essentially, the governing agency would be immune. Now theoretically, one could still bring a civil suit against the operator IF the apparatus was being operated recklessly, or dangerously.
SUBCHAPTER B. OPERATION OF CERTAIN FIRE-FIGHTING EQUIPMENT
(e) county is not liable for damage to a person or property caused by a person approved by the county under this section to operate a motor vehicle for emergency fire-fighting assistance.
I almost forgot. I am not an attorney and I don't play one on TV. This should in no way to be construed as legal advise or opinion.
I've got HANDS ON experience with a policy like what Austin is trying to implement.
I can honestly say we TRIED this a while ago. We had a Deputy who created a policy thinking we would be responding safer by stopping at every intersection but it created a few close calls which forced our Fire Chief to negate the policy change.
Our policy was that we needed to stop at EVERY intersection, (to include all red or green lights, stop signs, etc.) we also have an opticom system in which we own for locally controlled intersections, and some of the state owned roadways have opticoms as well but state maintained.
Now as for close calls, in the first week of actually enforcing the policy of stopping at all intersections, my company, a quint, had three close calls in two days which the public had absolutely no clue what the hell we were doing.
We were responding on automatic fire alarms, we were not first due, and responded to letter of the policy which was lights and sirens, no going over the speed limit, and stopping at all intersections.
As for close calls, we had three in the first day.
First we were passing cars who yielded to our lights and sirens on a straight piece of road, 30 mph zone and when we approached an intersection and stopped with a green light, we were almost rear ended once, (witnessed by an off duty guy) we were passed at least 4 or 5 times by the same cars that yielded to us earlier. How? as we stopped at green lights, they proceeded through the green light intersection in a different lane (which was actually controlled by our opticom) and then we had to basically pass them again when we blew the sirens on the next straight-a-way or if another vehicle yielded in front of them. So your increasing the traffic in which you are potentially clearing in between intersections.
Next close call, we pull up to an intersection and stop to clear the intersection, and a car on the right, sitting at his red light, thinks we stopped and are going to turn either left or right so as well start to proceed straight, they decided to make a right turn on red, as we almost t-boned them.
My suggestion to the Fire Chief, was to go completely to an all flow of traffic response. Which we did test and they decided that our responses were extremely slow additional 10mminutes while waiting at red lights. So we actually went back to following the state law of emergency apparatus, which says slow down to a reasonable speed in case you need to stop immediately during intersection responses.
You wanna feel absolutely stupid, blow lights and sirens, and have the opticom blinking for your control and stop at an intersection. The public actually thinks you are LOST?
[Disclaimer: This issue is of public concern - therefore my commentary is protected under the 1st Ammendment. I am not in any way criticizing the fire chief or the policy or the department - I am simply providing commentary.]
Duly noted. I will try and give an update on this forum as I gain more experience with the new driving policy. I am hopeful that we will not have the close calls that you experienced. We are not required to stop at green lights. But, my understanding was that the original draft (prior to leaving committee) did include stopping at greens and yield signs as well. On a final note, we do have Opticom devices - but there has been some controversy over the devices as it has been reported in the local press that they are not being properly maintained.
Fire chief alters controversial driving policy
By Tony Plohetski | Friday, August 28, 2009, 02:44 PM
Austin firefighters will now be able to drive up to 10 miles over the speed limit when responding to emergencies, under a revised driving policy obtained this afternoon. But the policy still requires them to completely stop at intersections.
Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr earlier this month had issued new rules that said firefighters had to drive the speed limit when responding to calls — prompting outcry from the fire union, which said the policy would delay emergency responses. Firefighters also have expressed concern about having to make a complete stop at intersections.
Kerr has said that the policy changes were intended to keep firefighters and civilian drivers safer and that she did not think the measure would hinder response times.
Officials have said that policy, issued earlier this month, gave firefighters discretion to exceed the speed limit in certain circumstances. They said the latest revision makes their intentions clearer.
Kerr put the revised policy in place Friday afternoon. According to those rules, firefighters would be able to drive at speeds above the posted speed limit after they consider weather and road conditions, traffic congestion, the number of pedestrians, traffic flow and visibility.
The latest revision is similar to standard operating procedures for fire truck drivers issued by the International Association of Professional Firefighters. Those procedures also require firefighters stop at intersections but permits them to drive up to 10 miles per hour above posted speed limits in certain circumstances.
If the new policy actually does slow response times, this could be the impetus to add stations and manpower.
After all, if stations the same distance apart have longer response times in order to keep the responding firefighters and the driving public safe, then it follows that more stations located closer together are a logical way to keep the response times down while maintining response safety.