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Oklahoma City’s first responders want drivers to move over for emergency vehicles

EMS Authority of Okla. uses “Howler” sirens which drivers can feel up to 200 feet away

By Robert Medley
The Oklahoman

OKLAHOMA CITY First responders to emergency situations face daily dangers on the streets and highways.

Police officers in patrol cars, firefighters in trucks and paramedics in ambulances speed to calls with lights and sirens activated. But drivers do not always pull to the right or pay attention to them, first responders say, impeding response times and creating more danger.

Motorists also fail to yield to emergency vehicles at wreck scenes, which can lead to more wrecks or to injuries to first responders who have to get out of their vehicles. An Oklahoma City police officer was injured last year when a speeding motorist hit him at a traffic stop.

“We know this is something that has been talked about many times before, but my firefighters are telling me daily what a problem it is that drivers are not pulling to the right when they see emergency vehicles approaching,” Oklahoma City fire Battalion Chief Benny Fulkerson said.

“‘Sirens and lights means pull to the right’ is pretty simple, really.”

Fulkerson said firetruck drivers see people pulling into the left lane, then slowing down, or worse yet, stopping completely right in front of them in the left lane.

“I have personally driven Code 3 (with lights and sirens) and followed a driver in the left lane for more than a mile before he even realized I was there. We know this is something they wouldn’t do on purpose, but we really want to remind people to be cognizant of their surroundings while driving and know exactly what to do if they see an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens approaching,” Fulkerson said.

Oklahoma City police officer Megan Morgan said people should also remember to yield at the scene of accidents.

When police are responding in patrol cars with lights and sirens motorists should pull over to the right, “So that we can get to the emergency timely, but safely,” Morgan said.

Motorists can be cited for failing to yield to vehicles that have emergency equipment, lights and sirens activated.

When drivers approach a wreck or emergency responders who are on the shoulder or in the right lane, they should pull to the left.

“I have been on many scenes when drivers were not paying attention and drove right into an accident scene, " Morgan said.

On Aug. 9, 2015, Oklahoma City police officer Ivan Venegas, 29, made a traffic stop at Interstate 35 and SE 29 at the northbound exit ramp.

Venegas was standing outside his patrol car and behind his opened driver side door when a northbound motorist struck the door and Venegas. The driver fled the scene. Venegas was treated for injuries at a hospital.

Emergency medical technicians face similar problems when responding in ambulances.

Lara O’Leary, Emergency Medical Services Authority spokeswoman, said “EMSA paramedics often find themselves caught in traffic behind a vehicle that will not get out of the way.”

O’Leary said suddenly seeing lights in the rearview mirror can panic a driver, who might then make a wrong decision.

“This is why motorists need to be reminded that when an emergency vehicle is approaching, the driver needs to pull to the right.”

To boost the sound of an upcoming ambulance, EMSA has added Howler sirens to the fleet. The Howlers emit low-frequency tones that cause objects within 200 feet to reverberate. So even if drivers don’t hear the sirens, they can feel an ambulance approaching in time to pull over, O’Leary said.

Copyright 2016 The Oklahoman