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Drivesmart column: Give fire vehicles and scenes lost of space

Fire apparatus responding to an emergency is granted right of way
Tim Schewe

By Tim Schewe

When there is a fire, we need firefighters to get there as quickly as possible. Literally, seconds count. Once on scene, they need a safe working area so that they can concentrate on saving lives and putting out the fire without having traffic interfere. Our Motor Vehicle Act provides for both situations.

Fire apparatus responding to an emergency is granted right of way and exemptions from following traffic rules in the same manner as police vehicles and ambulances.

Fire apparatus have a special privilege granted to no other emergency vehicle in British Columbia. You must not follow them within 150 metres or 500 feet unless you are also driving an emergency vehicle. Having never been a firefighter I was curious and thought that I would ask the experts and find out why this rule exists.

Fire apparatus is not always as nimble as the vehicles most people drive so they may not be able to easily pull away from traffic. Following at the proper distance leaves room for sudden stops, turns and unexpected lane changes. Following too closely could cause a collision that would prevent the fire truck from reaching the emergency and have significant consequences in both locations.

As a follower, you don’t know what sort of emergency the fire truck is responding to. It may be a situation that you don’t want to become involved in such as an explosion or building collapse. Proper following distance will keep you from becoming trapped in the situation.

Finally, hydrants are usually located at street corners in the city. Keeping back allows firefighters to lay hose in safety.

That same 150 metre following distance applies to driving or parking in the vicinity of a fire scene. Unless directed to do so by an official with that authority you cannot go there. It is up to you to recognize this and find another way around that does not involve driving through the scene or over a fire hose.

Imagine that you are a firefighter, hose in hand, approaching the flames inside a burning building. You open the nozzle on your attack line and…nothing. Someone has driven over the hose outside in the street and ruptured it causing a loss of pressure. Not only are you unable to fight the fire, you cannot protect yourself.

This is why it is an offence drive over an unprotected fire hose without the permission of the fire department official in command. Even if the hose is protected, it is likely to be within the 150 metre exclusion zone and you would not be able to use it without authorization.

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit