First responders using dash cams for protection

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When first responders answer the call, drivers are required by law to give them room and yield the right of way, but Fox59 News rode along with a local fire department and found that it often doesn’t happen that way.

The dangerous encounters during emergency runs have even led the Wayne Township Fire Department to install dash cameras in its entire fleet of emergency vehicles, in order to better protect itself in case of accidents and disputes.

Fox 59 News installed four cameras on a Pike Township ambulance to see what happens during emergency runs. On every run, we witnessed EMT Eric Shields making quick decisions to avoid drivers who weren’t following the law.

“We can’t do anything for the patient or the scene or the situation if we don’t get there,” Shields said. “We have to protect them against the decisions that they make that are inappropriate.”

Amanda Drexler, an EMS supervisor for Pike Township Fire Department, said even though drivers are supposed to yield, many times they don’t.

During a single response in her vehicle, Fox 59 cameras caught the problem first-hand.

“They’re still not even stopping and neither is this van,” Drexler said, as the vehicles crossed in front of her as she tried to enter an intersection. “We had multiple cars still continuing past us even though, obviously, our sirens are going, lights on, everything.”

Pike Township Battalion Chief Chris Tragesser said the problem only seems to be growing.

“One of the biggest issues were seeing now is the use of electronic devices, and I don’t even think there’s a close second,” he said.

Though distracted driving is a common problem on the road, the consequences are magnified during emergency crashes. We’ve seen numerous examples in videos from across the country. Some of the evidence has been captured by fire departments that have installed their own dash cameras.

“We’re getting videotaped all the time,” said Wayne Township Fire Chief  Gene Konzen. “Anytime we’re on a run, somebody is probably videotaping us on an accident, on a fire run or whatever because they’re trying to catch all the action.”

Konzen said that’s one reason why Wayne Township began installing its own cameras last year. He said they use the video for training and for evidence in case of disputes or other dangers.

Wayne Township was able to install the cameras in its entire fleet because the cameras are affordable. They’re not too much more than a typical GoPro camera. They also have a few advantages. They automatically turn on as soon as the car starts, and they also record both the road and the people inside the cab.

“A lot of times two stories are different,” said Lt. George Boots with the Wayne Township Fire Department. “But with this it tells an accurate story, and for us that’s very important. It protects us more.”

Chief Konzen showed Fox59 News video evidence of how the cameras protect the firefighters during disputes with the public.

“This guy was mad,” Konzen said. “He said our firetruck tried to run him over and everything.”

The video told a different story. As the Wayne Township engine approached an intersection with lights and sirens, the other car stopped at a stop sign and then pulled out directly in front of the approaching truck.

“As you can see they didn’t try to run him over,” Konzen said. “They had to slow down.”

But with camera’s recording every run, sometimes the public’s concerns are validated.

“We got a complaint that (our firefighters) were running red lights,” Konzen said, pulling up another video. “As they come up to the light you can see it’s still red. You can kind of tell they really didn’t slow down.”

Even though drivers are supposed to yield, Konzen said firefighters are supposed to use caution and stop briefly if they approach a red light. In this case he said, the cameras provide accountability.

“In this particular case we go back, talk to the firefighters and say, ‘Look, it’s not worth someone else’s life or anybody in here for you to go on a fire run,” Konzen said.

Pike Township is also open to the idea of adding permanent cameras, regardless of what they record.

“As a driver or a passenger you can’t see everything so it’s just another set of eyes that can help you see things to go back and look at and learn from,” Shields said.

“I think we have to be proud of the amount of training and professionalism that we have on emergency runs and we’re willing to stand behind that,” Tragesser said.

State law requires drivers to yield to emergency vehicles that are responding with their lights and sirens. That includes pulling over to the right or, if that’s not possible, stopping in your lane. Shields said the most important thing to do is to stay aware and make a path for first responders to get through, even if that means turning through an intersection to get out of the way.

IC 9-21-8-35:

Emergency vehicles; yield of right-of-way

Sec. 35. (a) Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle, when the person who drives the authorized emergency vehicle is giving audible signal by siren or displaying alternately flashing red, red and white, or red and blue lights, a person who drives another vehicle shall do the following unless otherwise directed by a law enforcement officer:

(1) Yield the right-of-way.

(2) Immediately drive to a position parallel to and as close as possible to the right-hand edge or curb of the highway clear of any intersection.

(3) Stop and remain in the position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed.

(b) Upon approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, when the authorized emergency vehicle is giving a signal by displaying alternately flashing red, red and white, or red and blue lights, a person who drives an approaching vehicle shall:

(1) proceeding with due caution, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the authorized emergency vehicle, if possible with due regard to safety and traffic conditions, if on a highway having at least four (4) lanes with not less than two (2) lanes proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle; or

(2) proceeding with due caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle to a speed at least ten (10) miles per hour less than the posted speed limit, maintaining a safe speed for road conditions, if changing lanes would be impossible or unsafe.

(c) Upon approaching a stationary recovery vehicle, a stationary utility service vehicle (as defined in IC 8-1-8.3-5), or a stationary road, street, or highway maintenance vehicle, when the vehicle is giving a signal by displaying alternately flashing amber lights, a person who drives an approaching vehicle shall:

(1) proceeding with due caution, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the recovery vehicle, utility service vehicle, or road, street, or highway maintenance vehicle, if possible with due regard to safety and traffic conditions, if on a highway having at least four (4) lanes with not less than two (2) lanes proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle; or

(2) proceeding with due caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle to a speed at least ten (10) miles per hour less than the posted speed limit, maintaining a safe speed for road conditions, if changing lanes would be impossible or unsafe.

(d) This section does not operate to relieve the person who drives an authorized emergency vehicle, a recovery vehicle, a utility service vehicle, or a road, street, or highway maintenance vehicle from the duty to operate the vehicle with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.

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