Answering Emergency Calls Can Be Dangerous for First Responders

NBC 7 Investigates took a ride with San Diego fire crews to see what road hazards they face

Lights flashing and siren blaring, fire engines stop at red lights, checking for traffic.

Battalion Chief, David Gerboth, with San Diego County Fire and Rescue said, "when we come to red lights or intersections it is very difficult to see oncoming traffic.”

Gerboth said drivers must pull to the right side of the road when they see an emergency vehicle. Failure to do so, he said, can cause accidents or delays in fire engines and fire trucks and ambulances arriving at the scene of an emergency.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, over the last decade, about 20 percent of U.S. firefighter deaths have occurred while firefighters were responding or returning from calls. According to the organization, traffic accidents usually cause more firefighter deaths than flame, smoke inhalation or building collapses.

Crashes usually account for the second highest number of deaths. But in 2015, the number of fatal crashes went down significantly. Nationwide, six firefighters died in four crashes.

“Some people get scared and aren't sure what to do," Gerboth said. "They actually drive faster and try to outrun the emergency vehicles. Downtown is a very congested area it is busy at all times of the day.”

It's not just firefighters that are at risk.

This past May, a driver was seriously hurt when a San Diego Fire-Rescue engine responding to an emergency call collided with a vehicle in City Heights.

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San Diego Fire and Rescue spokesman Lee Swanson said, in the past year, fire trucks have been involved in four accidents in intersections while driving "code 3" - meaning with lights and sirens. They have been rear-ended on the freeway two times.

According to data from San Diego Fire and Rescue, from 2005 to 2014, there were 21 crashes involving a fire truck or fire engine in San Diego.

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