No more lights and sirens for Chesterfield volunteer firefighters

By Ben Garbarek - bio | email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Volunteer firefighters are no longer allowed to use lights and sirens on their personal cars. Volunteer firefighters will have to follow the speed limit and traffic lights like the rest of us.

Last year, the Chesterfield Fire Department had 29 accidents while responding to emergencies. It hopes these new rules can bring that number down.

Getting to the fire can often be just as dangerous as the fire itself. You'll still see large fire trucks flashing red lights and blaring sirens, but new rules going into effect today will stop volunteer firefighters from doing the same.

Tom Berry has been a volunteer firefighter in Chesterfield County for twenty years. He says the new rules fit the times.

"Twenty years ago we did use lights on our personal vehicles," he said. "Today it doesn't do any good. It doesn't give you any additional authority, it's a courtesy light."

Instead, volunteer firefighters will take turns being on call inside a fire station instead of being paged at home.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates a third of firefighter deaths happen getting to an emergency. That's something Chesterfield is all too familiar with.

Brad McNeer was killed responding to an emergency along Old Buckingham Road. Now, nearly 12 years later, the fire department is still trying to put into place new procedures to keep firefighters safe in his memory.

Mark Sacra says the department owes it to Brad to make these new rules.

"If there's a legacy involved with Brad," he said. "A large part of it is the fact that our driving and response procedures have become much more safe over the years."

He says the fewer vehicles rushing to an emergency, the better.

"People tend to panic when they look up in their rear view mirror and they see a big fire engine or an ambulance with lights flashing, siren going," Sacra said. "They're not sure what to do."

The new traffic rules will also apply to large water tankers. These trucks are often used for more rural fires where there's no water hydrant nearby and can tip over.

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