Pop quiz: If you’re cruising down the highway in the passing lane and an ambulance is closing in behind you — swirling lights and sirens blazing — do you:
A) Continue in the passing lane and hit the gas so you can lead the ambulance to the scene;
B) Turn up the radio and ignore the all the commotion (they can pass you on the right like everyone else has been doing);
C) Wonder why it is that you’re loitering — perhaps even illegally — in the passing lane for no particular reason;
D) Slam on the brakes right then and there and let the ambulance go around you.
E) Quickly and safely move into the right-hand lane (and/or shoulder), leaving a clear path for the ambulance;
If you don’t know the answer, walk, don’t drive to the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office and turn in your license. You, my friend, are a hazard.
I would like to think that anyone with any driving experience at all would know what to do, but because I just know there’s someone out there thinking, “It has to be ‘A,’ ” the answer is ‘E,’ pull over and get out of the way.
Under normal circumstances you might have the right of way, a green light or the ability to bring the flow of traffic to an absolute standstill because you don’t ever use your signal lights, but when an emergency vehicle is in the vicinity, all the protocol that applies to normal traffic situations is, quite frankly, tossed out the window.
Why? Because lives, somewhere, are on the line.
The emergency vehicle dictates what happens. Not the traffic lights, not your ego and not your uncanny ability to be five minutes late instead of five minutes early.
And then there are people who just don’t have a clue.
“A lot of people don’t know what to do,” says emergency medical technician Patrick Murphy, who agreed to let me ride along for a shift. “There are others I think who don’t care.”
He says I’ll get plenty of examples for my column, but first I have to sign a waiver essentially saying that if we run into one of those “hazards” and twist some metal, I can’t hold him responsible.
Gulp. My boss will owe me big-time for this one.
“It’s standard,” he assures me. (Besides, even if something goes wrong, I’ll already be in an ambulance.)
Murphy doesn’t hop into the ambulance, he purposefully maneuvers himself behind the wheel, sitting up stretcher straight and ticks off items on a clipboard before firing the ignition.
He’s one of those polite, clean-cut boys with a firm handshake your mother would approve of. The lines on his crisply ironed uniform are as sharp as he is, and the few wrinkles around his clear green eyes are the only visible signs of stress from a job that can easily raise your blood pressure a good 10 points …
“You really don’t have time to react to the situation while you’re in it. You have to get in and out quickly without hurting anyone. That’s all you have time to think about.”
For the record, he has a clean driving composite. That’s not to say he hasn’t come close.
One time Murphy was racing to an emergency and all of the cars at the intersection stopped, except one, the driver of which decided she could make it through before Murphy did.
“She honked at me! I couldn’t believe it. You may think it’s only a few seconds, but it adds up and that could make all the difference.”
Not long after he tells that story, we’re trailing a sedan that refuses to get out of our way. The music’s cranked so loud that the young driver can’t hear the siren.
Murphy might not want to get out and throttle the kid, but I sure do.
“You would never make it (doing this),” he says with a laugh. It’s the only time during the shift that he cracks a smile.
“This sort of thing happens all the time. Either the music is too loud or they’re talking on a cellphone and they’re not paying attention to their surroundings.
“The fact is, you don’t know where we’re going or who we’re going to help. It could be someone you love,” he said. “The next time you decide not to cooperate, ask yourself if it’s worth it. Could you live with yourself if you prevented us from saving someone you love?”
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