Mike DeMars, Public Education officer for the Central Fire Protection District, wishes there was something similar for emergency workers, called “Slow for the Flare, Cone and Emergency Worker Zone.”
“It never fails to amaze me that we can put out flares and cones, and park a big fire truck (so that it blocks the road) and people will still try to drive through,” De Mars said Monday about motorists’ total disregard for their own safety, as well as that of the firefighters who are trying to do their job.
DeMars has been in the fire service since 1988 and says the problem is a lingering one.
Case in point: about two weeks ago there was a vehicle fire in Capitola. An SUV had broken down and the driver’s friend was trying to help give it a jump start. But something went wrong and flames erupted under the hood of one of the vehicles.
Even though the motorists had put the fire out themselves with a fire extinguisher before the professionals arrived, protocol requires for fire personnel to block off the area to vehicle traffic while they make sure the coast is clear, as well as conduct an investigation.
On his day, the fire engine -- with red lights flashing -- was parked diagonally to block the street. DeMars had his truck parked next to it with its emergency lights on, too, he said.
“And this guy comes along. He just enough room to squeeze through,” De Mars said. “When I stopped him, he asked, ‘I’m not supposed to go through?’
“I told him that we were about to reopen the road and that he should (take a detour and) go around, but I let him through.”
DeMars recalls incidents in which fire crews put out cones to direct motorists away from the hazardous area, but drivers would try squeeze between the cones.
When asked if the people trying to get by are victims of the fires his department is trying to put out, he replied, “No.”
“The people whose homes we are trying to save are more understanding than their neighbors, who just have to get home,” he said.
No Central Fire staff have been hurt by motorists who seemingly are oblivious to the rules of the road -- that drivers must obey the guidance of construction zone flaggers, police officers, and other emergency personnel, including those who fight fires (source: DMV Driver Handbook).
But DeMars did recall seeing at least one motorist get arrested as a result of his eagerness to bypass the roadblock.
“A couple years ago, there was a home fire on Old San Jose Road and we had it blocked in both directions at 5:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “Traffic was backed up in both directions and we had the Sheriff’s Office and CHP handling traffic for us.”
“One guy, who was going down toward Soquel, was at the head of the line. And he started mouthing off to a CHP officer, saying he had places to go” De Mars continued. “The CHP officer went over and chatted with him, had him step out of the vehicle and did a sobriety test. He failed, got cuffed, thrown in back seat of the cruiser and his car towed.”
So the moral of the story, besides don’t drink and drive, is if there are cones or flares and emergency vehicles blocking the road, DeMars said, there’s good reason – everyone’s safety.