Recent policy changes with the Austin FD concerning speed limits while running emergency with lights and sirens has me asking; why run lights and sirens at all?

But it did get me to looking at my departments responses and how many of them are true "emergencies".

Even though we do not have a written policy, fire alarms are generally treated as a non emergency response especially if it is a "general fire alarm" and no exact location in the building, or the "I've fallen and I can't get up" calls, will get a non response. But yet we run a vehicle fire on a remote county road at 3 am as an emergency.

Another local department runs "trash fires",or a check for fire, etc as a non emergency call.

Does your department differentiate between emergency or non, or do all calls get an emergency response?

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First, regarding Austin and doing the speed limit. Running lights and sirens should clear traffic, even if going the speed limit and making it so one does arrive sooner. Take FDNY for example, running in the traffic there, really isn't much more than the speed limit, but clearing traffic, makes it quicker to get on scene. That is what I think the basis is about. I don't know and never been to Austin.

For our dept we treat fire alarms as true emergencies and send a full fire call. It is up to the Battalion chief to downgrade or just send the first due rig if dispatch gets a proper cancellation code. However, the first due engine will still check it out. Trash fires, and investigate are non-emergent calls for us, but may upgrade if close to a building.

Another reason to not trust the PD's word: We recently had a fire where it was food on the stove. The occupant extinguished the fire with a towel. PD arrived said it was food on the stove, but the FD continued in emergent. First in pump went to investigate and all other units stood by. They started finding more smoke than usual and found a bedroom fully involved. The occupant went to open windows and dropped the still smoldering towel in a clothes pile. The FD got the fire out quick, but just an example of why we don't take someone else's word and we still check things out on our own.
We have written SOP’s for what gets an emergency response and what does not.
Different types of fire or medical calls get different responses.
Any alarm in a structure gets an emergency response until we have a unit on scene you never know.
Trash or dumpster and most woods fires are non emergency calls. Not knowing the different in an emergency and non emergency call will come in to play in court after an accident. Having a written policy can help save the department if it is followed.
A fire alarm is not considered a service call until we arrive and determine the AFA was false. I would like to see your defense to a lawsuit, when you arrived and someone was hangin out of a window and see's you pull up slow like - driving miss daisy. What about response with alot of traffic lights enroute. Flow of traffic response could take 10-12 minutes? How about having a policy and training on driving SAFE??? Oh that would be too difficult to manage and enforce so lets just go flow of traffic... Called being a supervisor and handling the situation. IMHO there are too many officers who want to be paid the step increase but want to still act like a firefighter.

Our Response Policy;

AFA without any additional information: first due is running code 3, the rest of the box alarm is flow of traffic.

Additional info, reported smoke with AFA, or building fire everyone is running code 3.
we have policies in place that dictate lights or no lights. About half of our calls we'll respond non-emergency. Also, on medical calls, based on the information that dispatch receives, they will advise whether all units run hot, closest unit only runs hot or none. 99% of the time units will respond based on what dispatch advises but there are times the officer on board can make the decision to upgrade the response if they deem it necessary.
As far as traffic goes, we have 5 traffic lights on an 10 mile stretch of highway. The county roads have deep flood control ditches which prohibit vehicles from moving over much, (even if they wanted to) so speed isn't an issue. Drivers training? EVOC once a year, mandatory for all operators.

Being a rural/suburban area, there may be 25 structures in our response area which have monitored alarm systems, and we make most of them 2 or 3 times a year. Now if the alarm company gives us a specific zone, and not a "general" alarm, then it's an emergency. Average response time in this area 4 1/2 minutes.

Your point is well taken, and I'm sure that if the 60% projected growth in this area takes place as predicted, then to our tactics will adjust as well.
Left out the part that it depends on your response district... I have some areas in which to go three miles flow of traffic, it might take ten minutes with traffic patterns, lights, construction, etc.
Our dispatchers follow our policy for calls such as structure fire, rescue, AFA to be classified as 'emergency'. Bin fires, MVA with no injuries, child left in locked car (illegal here) are non-emergency. The OiC of the primary appliance, the first truck out, can upgrade if thought necessary - usually when there are no police or ambulance already at the MVA, or in hot weather for child locked in car calls.

AFA calls where further information says that no fire has been seen will usually have all but the closest appliance downgrade but continue on. Wildfire in weather not conducive to fire spread will usually have all vehicles downgrade. A bin fire where further advice gives the bin to be against a building will have all vehicles upgrade. We have flexibility within the SOP's.

Our driving under emergency conditions SOP places some restrictions over what we are allowed to do by the law. We must obey posted roadworks speed-limits and posted school zones, we are allowed to exceed speed limits by 20 km/h where safe. We can only go through a red light if it is safe to do so - and the proof is that if we are involved in a collision then it wasn't safe to do so. By law travelling lights only makes us emergency vehicles but if we want people to give way to us then we must also be using sirens - this allows us to retain our own sanity when on long runs! Detailed SOP's with some allowance for judgment when on the call.
All of our calls will at least get a lights response. Usually after midnight we will just hit the federal a few times at intersections. If it comes in as a fire alarm in a residence or any other structure during the day time, we will run lights and sirens. We have one business where we are garunteed at least 2 alarms a year and we usually just run lights to it and tap the federal a few times on the way there. It usually depends on the type of call and the time of day for the most part.
We are rural, so in the wee hours out of respect to our villagers, we will hit the siren when we get outside the village limits. Normally, we have not hit road speeds anyway.
But, during normal hours, if we are running lights, we are running sirens.
As FETC said, teaching more drivers ed to the drivers would go a long ways towards reducing the chance for an accident.
The bottom line is that we are having too many accidents nationwide and something has got to be done.
Many articles have been written and all of the agencies are offering their input on the problem.
Again; if there wasn't a problem, there wouldn't be so much chatter about it.
We have to get there to do our good work.
It is embarassing as hell to have an accident on our way to an accident.
Kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it?
Our county has given us non emergency guidelines to follow But they dont state what calls are actually non emergency besides automatic alarms, fluid spills and smoke checks and medical calls that are not an actual emergencies. This policy actually bit us in the a** a couple of months ago. We were dispatched to the police station for an "unknown problem". the ambulance went enroute no lights or sirens because thier was no emergency status conveyed to them. Well the "unknown problem" was a police officer that had been shot inside the station and since the police did not hear the sirens on the ambulance they didnt know they were enroute and threw the officer in a car and ran him to the hospital themselves.this delayed care for the officer by about 15 minutes thankfully he is ok and back at work.
As Chad said, we are paged out from the county sheriff's office. We run lights and sirens to all calls that we think are "true emergencies" by listining to the call for serivce. If the call comes over as a "true emergency" we respond to it as one but if dispatch says to stand-by or proceed that direction (i.e. possibility of being mutual-aided) we will not run lights and sirens, unless information is recieved that we need to do so.

Unlike Chad, we are 20-30 minutes drive time from our Ambulance District, so almost every medical type call is treated as a true emergency, for the simple fact that an "I've fallen and can't get up" call could very well be far worse than the page would dictate.

I hope this helps.
"Even though we do not have a written policy, fire alarms are generally treated as a non emergency response especially if it is a "general fire alarm" and no exact location in the building..."

Complacency kills. We treat every fire alarm as a fire response until the first IC downgrades the response.

"I've fallen and I can't get up" calls, will get a non response." A fall can mean lots of things from a simple twisted ankle to a broken hip to seizures, MIs and strokes. If your grandma was on the floor and managed somehow to activate EMS, would you still run it as a "non response?" What do your taxpayers expect when they activate the EMS system?

Lights and sirens are merely tools to get the crew safely to the scene, they are not a license to drive like a bat out of Hell. there is no law requiring you to drive fast just because your warning devices are actuated. Drive the speed that gets you and your crew to the call SAFELY and QUICKLY, that may be the speed limit, that may be faster if the call, traffic conditions and road conditions warrant. If your lights and siren don't get a driver out of your way, use your air horn (that usually does the trick).


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