Nfld. & Labrador

Volunteer firefighters push for flashing lights on personal vehicles

Allowing volunteer firefighers to put a siren on the roof of their car when heading to an emergency would help alert public, deputy chief says.

Volunteers elsewhere allowed to use courtesy lights when heading to emergencies

Trucks like this one with the Witless Bay Volunteer Fire Department don't have trouble reaching emergencies, but volunteer firefighters in personal vehicles can get delayed. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Volunteer firefighters in Newfoundland and Labrador may soon be able to put a courtesy light on their personal vehicles when responding to an emergency.

Similar programs exist in other provinces, allowing volunteer firefighters to place a red or green flashing light on top of their personal vehicles to make it easier for them to get to a fire. 

Implementing a similar system in this province could cut down response times and make it easier for volunteer firefighters to help when they're needed, Wayne Deaves, deputy fire chief of the Port au Port Regional Volunteer Fire Department, told the Corner Brook Morning Show.

"For volunteer firefighters in our personal vehicles, we have a hard time getting through traffic," he said.

The public knows to yield for a fire truck, Deaves said, but they don't always realize that a car trying to get to the scene of an emergency might contain a volunteer firefighter and not just a curious citizen.

Allowing those volunteers to put a light on their cars would do the public the courtesy of letting them know what the situation is, he said.

Green lights used in other provinces

Deaves said he's discussed the issue of green lights with his MHA John Finn, who is "100 per cent for it."

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons is also interested in the idea, but says more work is required before it can be implemented here.

"We are extremely lucky to have our volunteer firefighters, these first responders, all across the province," Parsons told CBC's Central Morning Show. "It's one of those ideas that I'm open to considering, but I think we have to do a little more work."

Other jurisdictions already have similar rules in place.

In Saskatchewan, the personal vehicles of all firefighters — volunteer or not — can use a red light in emergency situations, Deaves said. Alberta and Ontario have similar programs, and Quebec is running a four-year pilot project. In all four Atlantic provinces, fire chiefs and deputy fire chiefs can put a light on their personal vehicles.

The fact that the system is in place in other jurisdictions means there are guidelines in place that Newfoundland and Labrador can look to, Deaves said.

But some jurisdictions have had issues with the system, Parsons said. In Maine there has been abuse of the system, and the state is now reconsidering its policy.

"When you see these issues arising in other jurisdictions it means you really have to do your legwork."

There are also issues to address with insurance, given that personal vehicles will be used in emergency situations, and in determining how much authority the light confers to vehicles, Parsons said.

The Highway Traffic Act would have to be modified to allow for the change, Deaves said, and the safety issues should be addressed.

But ultimately, he said volunteers aren't trying to abuse the rules of the road or change the normal use of their vehicles. They only want to let the public know when they're on the job.

"There always is problems but we've got to work through them. We don't want to be an emergency vehicle. All we want is to be able to have courtesy lights."