The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Wolfgang Kurtz
LOG Editor 

Blue light means yield

 

Wolfgang Kurtz | The Seward Phoenix LOG

Seward Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Austin Chapman's rugged Ford pickup truck features state of the art blue LED flashers, which making yielding the right of way in the public interest a prudent choice. Pending a replacement connector, the light bar on top is just for decoration.

Local fire department employees and volunteers are most commonly seen operating flashing blue lights in their personal vehicles while driving to the fire station in response to an emergency call. However, Seward area drivers don’t always know how to react when approached by a regular looking vehicle flashing a blue light light at them. And they are not alone.

On the State of Alaska driving test, there’s a question about what to do when an emergency vehicle with flashing lights approaches. The answer is to slow your automobile and pull off to the right hand shoulder, stopping as soon as is reasonable. What study materials don’t make clear is what kind of flashing lights are included under the law that requires drivers to yield. Or what kind of cars and trucks can be used as emergency vehicles.

The quick answer is that flashing blue or red lights or a combination of those colors demand that drivers stop and yield the right of way. Clearly marked emergency and police vehicles are commonly understood to have that kind of priority. What is not generally understood is that any vehicle, official or private, may have those lights mounted given the proper authorization.

In the case of the Seward Fire Department alone, over 18 private vehicles are certified under Alaska regulations to operate blue emergency lights. Fire departments get the authority to administer a local program from the Alaska Department of Public Safety and the Alaska State Fire Marshall. The fire department must be registered and current with all of its certifications to be authorized.

State law restricts the use of these emergency measures to specific personnel too. Only emergency medical technicians, paramedics, firefighters or police officers are authorized under the law. However, there’s no requirement that members participate with their vehicles and not all do. In any case, all authorized drivers and vehicles are only allowed to use flashing or strobing lights in response to an emergency.

SFD accepts applications from those members who have completed all incident command system training at the appropriate level for their position. There are training materials and a required exam as well as a vehicle inspection. At the testing stage, there is no pass/fail as it is a competency test and the applicants vehicle must meet all state operation and safety standards.

Once authorized under the law, drivers generally outfit their vehicle with a qualifying light or lighting system at their own expense. Some may use a single bulb behind the windshield or a combination of strobing blue LEDs or a blue light bar. Combinations of blue and yellow lamps, most often seen on work trucks, are specifically not included in the definition of emergency lighting and drivers are not required to yield.

When operating emergency lights, authorized drivers may disregard any statute ordinance regarding parking, stopping or standing or turning. State law says drivers must drive with safety regarding all other traffic and must generally obey stop signs and stop lights. However, there is room for discretion backed up by authorization to exceed the maximum speed limit if it doesn’t endanger life or property and there is cause. According to SFD supervisors, there typically isn’t any such cause.

A fire or medical emergency requires usually means responding on a moment’s notice at unpredictable times. The letter of the law requires ordinary traffic to slow, yield the right of way and clear any intersection to allow the passage of emergency vehicles. Having drivers show consideration for what can be a major interruption of a volunteer’s plans or sleep, can make a tough situation that much less burdensome. Seward, Bear Creek and Moose Pass first responders appreciate your consideration.

Further information is at the Alaska’s Department of Public Safety, Fire and Life Safety web site, including fire department registration status at dps.alaska.gov/fire/fdregistration.aspx.

 

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