Lack of respect for emergencies on the road

Tow truck driver struck by vehicle at full speed

A few years ago I wrote a story for Fire Prevention Week and interviewed a fire chief from the Leduc area. While discussing events of note over the previous 12 months, the chief related an incident to me that occurred to firefighters working at an emergency situation on Hwy. #2 through Leduc.

The firefighters, who actually spend as much or more time on medical first response as they do fighting fires nowadays, had responded to a medical call on the side of Hwy. #2. The exact issue escapes me, but I believe it was a motor vehicle collision with injuries.

Anyway, the chief told me the emergency vehicles had their lights on, and were clearly visible for quite a ways back. Regardless, a large pick-up truck sped through the area and I guess decided at the last second to slow down, or perhaps thought he/she was going to hit someone, so slammed on the brakes, lost control, slid down into the ditch, regained control, then got back up onto the highway, sped up and proceeded on. Obviously, this would frightened the living daylights out of the first responders present. I don’t know if the driver was ever charged by police, but certainly should have been.

As I recall, the fire chief said this type of thing occurs regularly.

On November 7 a tow truck driver was killed on Hwy. #12 near Scugog, Ontario. The tow truck driver, 56 year old Beverly Todd Burgess, was working with a second tow truck to pull a vehicle out of a ditch when an oncoming vehicle lost control and killed him. Tow trucks usually have a number of bright, flashing lights on them visible from far away, giving motorists an opportunity to slow down and to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

When I was working in Rocky Mountain House years ago, I was chatting with a local tow truck driver about the lack of respect some motorists show emergency vehicles. This driver told me he once was preparing to hoist a broken down vehicle onto his flat deck when an oncoming vehicle, easily travelling more than 100 km/hr, lost control and slid right up onto the flat deck and over the front of the tow truck. Both the operator and owner of the broken down vehicle were standing about a foot or two away from the collision and scared the heck out of them. Again, I was told that this sort of thing isn’t rare.

Trying to tell motorists to be safe and drive for the road conditions is likely a lost cause. I remember driving into Edmonton a few years ago during a winter storm warning, and I slowed down to adapt to the icy road. With decent winter tires, I had no trouble keeping my car under control. As I passed Leduc, there were literally dozens and dozens of vehicles upside down in the ditch. I guess some people didn’t think the road conditions were that bad that they should slow down. They were wrong.

Slowing down for emergency vehicles on the side of the road is the law.

My opinion is that, regardless of the law, all of us who respect other people’s lives and property are obligated to slow down and show respect. I know, I know, some of you are in a hurry and shouldn’t have to slow down for anyone, the law doesn’t apply to you etc. but sometimes great sacrifices have to be made, such as taking another 15 to 30 seconds to get to a destination.

On behalf of those whose lives could be at risk, we appreciate your sacrifice.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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