The use of warning lights and sirens on fire and EMS emergency vehicles is a basic component of emergency response and patient transport in this country. Over the past several years, the effectiveness of this long-standing tradition in affecting patient outcome or decreasing property or financial loss has come into question. What is known is that the majority of emergency vehicle crashes occur when warning lights and siren are in use. Vehicle crashes are a leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities.
Many fire and EMS departments in the United States have developed policies aimed at reducing the amount of responses using emergency warning lights and sirens. These departments have implemented priority dispatching systems that identify the risk involved (or even the potential of risk) and have assigned a response based on this. As a result, an incident such as a trash container fire not threatening nearby structures or an EMS call for a minor injury, might not require a lights and siren response. Other departments have instituted programs for automatic alarm response where only the first due apparatus responds using lights and sirens.
It is common practice for members of volunteer fire and EMS departments to respond to the station (and, in some instances, to an incident location) using their private vehicles (POV). Many States allow volunteer members to equip their POV with emergency lights and sirens while other States allow for “courtesy” lights (which convey no emergency status such as requiring other motorists to provide the right of way). For those volunteer fire and EMS departments that allow this practice, response with emergency and/or “courtesy” lights and/or sirens can be an issue as a POV is the leading vehicle involved in on-duty firefighter deaths resulting from vehicle crashes.
What is your department doing related to lights and siren response? Is every response done using lights or sirens? Has your department developed policies reducing the use of lights and sirens? What are they and are they working?
If you would like to learn more about USFA’s emergency vehicle safety efforts, including research in the areas of warning lighting and vehicle visibility and conspicuity, please visit our Web site.
Meet the Author
is a Fire Program Specialist with the USFA’s National Fire Programs Division, National Fire Data Center
. He manages numerous research and special studies in firefighter and emergency responder health and safety areas. He has nearly thirty years experience in emergency services and continues to serve in his community as a firefighter/EMS provider.