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Alarm Box: Why emergency responders use lights and sirens

When the fire department responds to an incident with lights and sirens (we call it “code three”), it is because there is a reason for which getting there sooner might create a better outcome. Some obvious situations include fires, heart attacks and breathing problems. The determination for our response is made by the information received by dispatch. 

When emergency responders are taught to drive code three, we learn that just because we have our lights and sirens on doesn’t mean we have the right of way. Our lights and sirens are simply asking you to give us the right of way. While it is the law to yield to emergency lights, it doesn’t mean that we can run a red light without making sure everyone has stopped, making a safe path for us to drive through. 

Tuesday we had a structure fire reported in the Tolman Creek Plaza. There were three fire engines and three staff cars responding. While fire and police were responding down East Main Street, many vehicles made efforts to give the right-of-way to emergency responders; however, quite a few did not. Thank you to those who did take the time to pull over! 

So why is it important to pull over? You may think that it is overkill to have to pull over, but here is what’s happening. When we are going code three, it is because someone really needs our help. Even though the people in our lane are pulling over, there may not be much room for us to pass, so we need those in the oncoming lane to pull over as well to give us plenty of room. You also don’t know where we are going. We may need to turn left in front of the oncoming lane. 

If you are one that has thought it wasn’t important to pull over for an emergency vehicle, I ask that you reconsider it. If you knew that we were on our way to help save someone’s home or business from fire, would you consider pulling over? If you know that we were on our way to prevent someone from dying from a heart attack, would you give us the right of way? I can assure you, that when we are driving code three, that’s what we think we are going to. 

If you are taking the time to read this column, I ask that you take the time to share this with others and be diligent in your efforts to give way to all emergency responders. We appreciate the help we get from everyone on the road. 

What happened to the structure fire? We arrived to find that there had been an electrical situation that created much smoke and crackling noises. Employees evacuated the building appropriately. The fire was out when we arrived, and there was no damage to the building. When I left, the facility was trying to determine what the problem was so that they could reopen their doors to customers. 

The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information, appears triweekly in the Tidings. Margueritte Hickman is a division chief/fire marshal with Ashland Fire & Rescue. Email topic suggestions to her at margueritte.hickman@ashland.or.us.