NYC Firefighters To Stop Using Lights And Sirens When Responding To Certain Non-Fire And Non-Life Threatening Emergencies

New York City’s fire trucks collided with other vehicles and with one another nearly 700 times last year. In an attempt to increase safety for firefighters and civilians by reducing the number of accidents caused while responding to non-fire and non-life threatening emergencies the New York City Fire Department is implementing a 3-month Modified Response pilot program in Queens effective October 4, 2010.

The new protocol increases the instances where the either none or at most one first-due units will respond at a reduced speed and obey all traffic regulations. All-out emergency responses will still apply for fires and medical calls. It is hoped that the new protocol will reduce the number of fire apparatus responses using lights and sirens to non-fire and non-life threatening emergencies citywide by more than 300,000 annually – a 30 percent reduction since FDNY apparatus respond nearly one million times a year.

From the perspective of a plaintiffs personal injury lawyer, credit must be given to the Fire Department because it may be increasing its exposure to liability if a fire truck being operated negligently causes an accident. Under current law, if the driver of an emergency vehicle has its lights and sirens on, even if the driver is negligent, there will not by any liability because the law requires recklessness that the vehicle was being operated with reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law 1104, an emergency vehicle responding to an emergency situation may park where necessary, speed, pass a red light, or ignore turning restrictions. Without the lights and sirens activated, the fire department will not be able to assert its non-liability upon the ground that the plaintiff cannot prove recklessness. Non-fire and non-life threatening call types have increased dramatically in the past 10 years.

Last year, FDNY responded to 194,406 such incidents, often sending multiple fire trucks to each call. The Fire Department’s Bureau of Operations has categorized the types of calls to receive Modified Response into two groups: Group 1 consists of calls for reports of water leaks, downed trees and pulled alarm boxes in the overnight hours where there is no secondary source of information. Instead of a single unit response in emergency mode, under the Modified Response Pilot Program these call types in Queens will still receive a single unit response, but that unit now will respond at a reduced speed and obey all traffic regulations, without the use of lights and sirens. Group 2 consists of odors other than smoke (such as gas or fumes), sprinkler and automatic alarms, electrical emergencies, manhole emergencies and other fire alarm systems. Currently, these call types can bring up to five units (three engine companies and two ladder companies) in emergency mode.

Under the Modified Response Pilot Program, these call types in Queens will still receive up to five units, but only the first-due units (one engine and one ladder) will respond in emergency mode. The additional units will respond at a reduced speed and obey all traffic regulations, without the use of lights and sirens. Upon arrival, the fire officers from the first due units will evaluate the incident and make a determination if the additional responding units are needed, or if they should return to quarters and remain in service. At any time, on any call, a fire officer responding to one of the above-mentioned call types can instruct all units to immediately respond in emergency mode based on additional information from dispatchers or by the officer’s evaluation on scene.

Also this week (Oct. 3 to 9) the FDNY will commemorate Fire Prevention Week 2010. The week is a way for the FDNY to stress the importance of fire safety for all New Yorkers. Citywide fire safety events will be held throughout the five boroughs.

The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving auto accidents. For over 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. If you or someone close to you has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. To learn more, watch our videos.

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