As snow hits the road, emergency services ask people to get out of way

Firefighter Joey Whalen drives a massive, 23-tonne fire truck through the narrow streets of downtown Moncton with ease. But add higher speeds, a wailing siren, and a distracted driver to the mix and things get complicated.

Despite sirens and lights, firefighters find drivers don't always pull over to let trucks get to emergency

Firefighter Joey Whalen drives one of Moncton Fire Department's biggest trucks through narrow downtown streets and says the job will become trickier once the snow falls and the road narrows. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Firefighter Joey Whalen drives a massive, 23-tonne fire truck through the narrow streets of downtown Moncton with ease. Add higher speeds, a wailing siren, and a distracted driver to the mix, and things get complicated.

"We have to watch everything, it's hard to know what someone is going to do," Whalen said.

The current rule is that when an emergency vehicle is approaching with lights and sirens blazing, drivers should slow down, pull to the right and come to a stop when it is safe to do so.

Chief Eric Arsenault says that with snow on the way, it's important that people slow down, move to the right and stop when an emergency vehicle approaches with sirens on. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

"It's very simple," according to Moncton fire Chief Eric Arsenault, yet it doesn't always happen.

"What's being noticed is that people seem to not respect the fact that we have lights, sirens, and that we're asking for the ability to proceed."

"It's important at this time of the year because our road conditions are going to change. We're going to encounter slippery road conditions."

Sylvain Lessard, co-ordinator of the safety program at Ambulance New Brunswick, says moving out of the way of emergency vehicles is the law and the right thing to do. (Submitted)

The holiday season also brings shoppers to the city, and snow narrows the road, making it more important people pay attention.

But from the driver's seat of an almost 12-metre long truck, Whalen sees distracted drivers making his job harder than it already is.

"It's frustrating but it's also scary, because you have such a big truck on the road."

"They do stop good, but if you run into somebody, somebody gets hurt."

Paramedics are seeing the same inattention by motorists.

Sylvain Lessard, the co-ordinator of safety programs at Ambulance New Brunswick, said the service doesn't keep statistics on how many people don't get out of the way of ambulances, "but I can tell you from being a paramedic myself, that it happens daily."

This is one of two quint fire trucks in the Moncton fleet, equipped with a 75-foot ladder, water tank, pump and hose among other pieces of equipment. (Ian Bonnell/CBC)

"I think the number one concern is distractions in the vehicles."

He listed loud music, drivers listening with headphones, cellphones, eating and drinking as some of the reasons people don't slow down and pull over when an emergency vehicle is coming.

"They are putting themselves, the people around them and the emergency workers going to an emergency at risk."

Whalen manoeuvres the fire truck through some tight spaces with confidence, but there are times when the truck doesn't fit. Small things, such as motorists stopping at the stop lines at traffic lights, can help firefighters find room to make a turn, he says. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

According to Lessard, ambulances have been in accidents travelling to emergency calls before, but there has never been a fatality. He credits ambulance driver training as one of the reasons no one has been killed.

Arsenault said fire trucks have also been involved in fender benders on their way to emergency scenes but again, no one was killed.

As Whalen manoeuvred through traffic, with inches to spare in one of two of the fire department's largest fire trucks, it seemed amazing that accidents didn't happen more often.

But in his job, Whalen said, he has to be ready for anything, including bad drivers.

About the Author

Tori Weldon


Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.