Close calls on streets causes delays for emergency responders

Posted at 10:34 PM, May 05, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY -- We all hear the sirens blaring, the lights flashing, but we don`t always pay attention. According to Salt Lake City Fire Department, when they respond to emergencies, drivers on the road fail to respond to them, creating some potential close calls.

“We find delays all the time. It happens every emergency call we go on, sometimes multiple times in a single call,” said Capt. Kelly Carter of Salt Lake City Fire Department.

A typical day at work for his crew at Station 1 never moves as quickly as they`d like.

“Cars either just don’t yield to us at all, they just keep going, like we don’t exist, or they pull to the left and stop or just keep on driving in the left lane” Carter said.

They cover a portion of downtown Salt Lake City that takes them anywhere within a few miles from their station at 211 S. 500 East, and sometimes, the roads are as a busy as their shifts. Since Carter started working in the city more than a decade ago, he’s found the problems on the job have grown with the size of the city.

“We`re responding to about 12 calls a day,” Carter said. “In the mornings people coming to work, in the evenings, people trying to leave the city, trying to get home. So, we just have a ton of traffic on the service streets.”

According to a study from the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, fire trucks only account for about 10 percent of crashes involving emergency and special purpose vehicles, but from 2000-2009, there were more than 31,000 crashes involving fire vehicles, 49 of which led to the death of a person riding on the truck.

“We`ve had very close calls, where I felt like we`ve dodged a bullet, where we`ve almost gotten in an accident,” Carter said. “It could mean the difference of 20, 30 seconds. It could mean the difference of saving a life in a fire. It could mean the difference of saving a life in a medical emergency, cardiac arrest, respiratory emergency.”

FOX13 accompanied Carter and his crew out on the road to put drivers to the test with a stop watch.

Their first call was for a patient in cardiac arrest at the nearby City Creek Mall. Not long after they turned out of the station, one driver barely cleared their pathway, and a second driver seemed unsure of where to move next.

From start to finish, it took them three minutes and 27 seconds to navigate their way through traffic to their destination, which is slightly longer than they prefer.

“We try to keep our responses as quick as possible, but some of those areas they can take up to 2 minutes, 2 ½ minutes,” Carter said.

Their next call was for a possible overdose at a TRAX stop. To get from their station to Main Street and 500 South, it took them 2 minutes and 31 seconds.

“Usually, during the busy time of the day, people usually hesitate and want to pull out into the left and get into the middle lane and cause us problems,” said Tony Crockett, a firefighter engineer with Salt Lake City.

On their final call for the afternoon, a bus cut them off as they departed the station to respond to a report of an unconscious male at the Salt Lake City library. Seconds later, a car sped through an intersection to beat them.

“People will try to outrun us and all that stuff and try to beat us,” Crockett said. “And we try to discourage that.”

They were able to reach the site in 1 minute and 54 seconds.

According to Carter, preparing for the worst drivers can make them better ones when they are crunched for time, making all the difference when they’re racing against the clock.

“'We anticipate them doing the worst, or we expect the unexpected,” Carter said. “We expect them to pull in front of us. We expect them to stop in front of us. We expect them to make a left-hand turn in front of us.”