Shaler Hampton Emergency personnel share EMS rules of the road

Thursday, September 12, 2019 | 12:01 AM

When a driver sees lights and hears sirens, they should pull over to the right side of the road to a full stop, reminds Shaler Hampton Emergency Medical Services Director Eric Schmidt.

Schmidt, who has been with the nonprofit since January, wanted to provide some safety tips when driving a vehicle. He said these reminders are important as sometimes drivers don’t always follow the best protocol.

Pulling over for an emergency vehicle is “not a courtesy but an expected response,” he said.

Drivers need to have “situational awareness,” said Schmidt. Having an idea of what is happening around a driver makes for a safe environment and lets them know when emergency vehicles on call are approaching.

This includes after pulling over, coming to a full stop is “really critical” as some drivers just slow down, said Schmidt.

“It makes it difficult to pass … we don’t know what their next move is going to be,” said Schmidt of a driver who may just decelerate.

“Predictability is important,” he said.

John Schwend, chief of the North Hampton Volunteer Fire Department, agrees.

“Coming to a stop is preferred. However, do not do so around a turn where it may be unsafe for the emergency vehicle to pass — move forward to a safe location,” said Schwend. “Drivers should always be looking in their mirrors and be cognizant of cross traffic when approaching intersections, especially looking for emergency vehicles with flashing red lights.”

Schwend also said to be patient if the traffic cycle is disrupted by an approaching emergency vehicle. He echoed Schmidt’s concerns that “quick or unpredictable maneuvers can lead to an accident as the vehicle passes through the intersection.”

Hampton Township Police Chief Tom Vulakovich refers to state motor vehicle code 3325. This states the duty of driver on approach of an emergency vehicle that is displaying lights and sirens “shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed.”

This is true except when otherwise directed by a police officer or other person authorized to regulate traffic.

The code makes reference that a driver also should feel safe when pulling over.

Schmidt said while pulling over to the right is expected, roads like Route 8 when someone is in the left lane, pulling to that side of the road would be a likely scenario.

There are multiple level of EMS calls provided by the Allegheny County 9-1-1 Communications Center, ranging from E-0 to E-4, with zero as lowest level of emergency to four being highest, said Schmidt. E-0 and E-1 calls do not use lights and sirens. E-2 calls do occasionally. And E-3 and E-4 always use lights and sirens, he said.

The reason why some calls don’t use emergency alerts is that the EMS personnel is currently employing medical care for the person they are transporting to the hospital, said Schmidt. And he said they don’t just run red lights but are required to stop to ensure an intersection is clear for them to proceed.

Be aware there may be more than one emergency vehicle responding, he added.

Schmidt, of O’Hara Township, said the police go with them on basically every call. Shaler Hampton EMS covers the Hampton, Shaler and Etna townships, as well as providing mutual aid to other nearby communities if necessary.

He said don’t try to follow an ambulance on an emergency transport to the hospital just because you know the person being transported and want to be there. Follow traffic laws.

If someone violates this law, the fine is $142.50, said Vulakovich. And if a police officer misses a violating driver because they are on the way to the same emergency call, they may be able to get a shot of the license plate and pursue action later.