Although a life may be saved depending on how fast the first responder team can get to the person in trouble, in some communities, there is a question as to how a first responder to an emergency should react.
For the obvious reasons in a life threatening emergency, responders often attempt to arrive on scene as quickly as possible. Many people naturally assume, that although they do regard traffic rules and regulations, they are permitted to travel over the speed limit at times.
Recently, at a city council meeting in Hornersville, a question was raised as to how fast a first responder to an emergency should drive. In the report given at the council meeting, according to Assistant Fire Chief Keith Cole, he said that volunteer emergency responders in personal vehicles need to slow response down to the speed limit due to some complaints from concerned citizens.
All first responders in Hornersville drive their own vehicle to the scene since the city has only two fire trucks available. Some are equipped with lights, some are not, according to Cole. Assistant Fire Chief Cole has said that first responders should abide by the speed limits posted in the city, with regard to state laws. He added that responders should be mindful that it is a small town which would not require responders to drive at excessive speeds to reach the scene, and that they should try to be a good driver and samaritan.
Even if a first responder is traveling in a non-official vehicle on their way to the scene with emergency lights flashing, they still do not have the legal authority to drive at excessive speeds over posted limits, according to current laws. Those laws state that a responder should be responsible in his driving because the goal is to arrive as fast and as safely as possible, keeping in mind other motorists safety as well. If lights are flashing on a vehicle headed to an emergency, it is, however, the motorist's responsibility to pull off the side of the road to allow the vehicle safe passage.
According to Emergency Responder and Kennett Fire Chief John Mallott, to be deemed an emergency vehicle in Missouri, the vehicle must have lights, a siren and a horn or whistle. Mallott noted that the principal idea is that an emergency vehicle should be seen as well as heard. The siren will first warn motorists that an emergency vehicle is in route, even before it can be seen.
Some vehicles display yellow lights. These are caution lights. Vehicles displaying these lights are to obey all traffic regulations.
Three official emergency vehicles that may exceed the speed limits under state laws are the police, ambulance and the fire department. If a personal vehicle does not have lights, siren and a horn or whistle, it is considered to be like anyone else in having to obey the rules and regulations of the traffic code, according to Mallott.
Since 1957, Missouri has had laws in place governing the use of emergency lights and sirens in personal vehicles. Known as the "Blue Light Law," authorization for a member of the Fire Department to use a blue light must be provided by the fire chief of on organized fire department according to RSMo 307.175.
Under this law, sirens and blue lights shall only be used in true emergencies and the driver is responsible for complying with all other traffic laws and regulations.Violation constitutes a class A misdemeanor. The "Blue Light Law" refers to what is known as a "courtesy light." This means that by displaying a blue light, the responder is requesting the public to give him the right of way allowing him a faster response to the emergency.
The law also states that operators of emergency vehicles are not to sound the sirens or have the front red lights or blue lights on unless they are responding to a true emergency call or when in pursuit of a suspected violator of the law, or when responding to or returning from a fire.
Drivers of emergency vehicles may park or stand regardless of the provisions of section 304.014 to 304.025 of the Missouri statutes. They may go through a red or stop signal or stop sign but must slow down as may be necessary for safe operation of the vehicle.
The law states that responders may also exceed posted speed limits as long as the operator of the vehicle does not endanger life or property, and are allowed to disregard rules regulating the direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
Also, it is necessary for an emergency vehicle to sound an audible signal by bell, siren or exhaust whistle as may be deemed necessary, under state laws, that note that the responding vehicle must be equipped with at least one lighted lamp displaying a red light or blue light that is visible under normal atmospheric conditions from a distance of five hundred feet to the front of such vehicle.
Additionally the law explains that no person shall purchase an emergency light without first showing the seller an affidavit that the light will be used for emergency vehicles only. A violation of this will be deemed a class A misdemeanor.
*Some information in this article can be attributed to the following sources. http://www.moga.mo.gov/statutes/c300-399..., http://www.moga.mo.gov/statutes/C300-399... and http://ago.mo.gov/opinons/1972/152-72.ht....