Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Risk Management and Driving

STATter 911: Did company closings create the conditions for Philadelphia fire truck wreck? Union thinks so। Mayor’s office calls idea “utterly ridiculous”.

An interesting, apparently contradictory, pair of explanations.

The union claims that the fire trucks would not have been in the collision if not for the budget cuts, because these trucks would not have been dispatched. There is some truth to this. As the number of trucks decreases, they have to travel farther per response. The average number of miles traveled per response will increase, especially if the number of calls stay the same, or increases.

One of the stories is titled Fire Trucks Crashed Racing to False Alarm. In the video of another report, one of the brass is stating that they were responding to a fire. So, there are some inconsistencies, but what can be observed directly tells us something about the crash.

Philadelphia, PA 19146

This takes you to Google Maps for the address. Click on the Street view (not here, on the address bubble on the map) and use the navigation controls in the upper left of the to see what the intersection looks like. Nice straight roads. Apparently no major obstructions to vision, except for the buildings, but it isn’t as if buildings jump out in front of traffic. Clear traffic signals on each corner. 4 corners, each with a traffic signal pointing in the direction of oncoming traffic. One of the better designed intersections in Philadelphia, which leads me to suspect that there has been a well publicized accident here before. That is just a combination of the cynic in me and the amount of time I’ve spent driving in Philadelphia. Sometimes these are the directions I give, to get to one of the local hospitals. Drive down to the second intersection without any traffic signs, then turn right.

Engine 43 vs Ladder 9. We’ll call it a draw, because there were no real winners. 9 fire fighters injured, but at least nobody seriously injured or killed.

What if it had been Engine 43 vs Little Girl On A Bike? How would that have worked out? LGOAB would have her very own memorial right there on that corner.

What? You think that if Engine 43 (the little truck) can’t see Ladder 9 (the big truck) coming down the street, there will be some sudden awareness of LGOAB?

Should she be riding in the street?


Should she pay more attention?


Should she have to go out of her way to make it OK for fire trucks to drive through a red light without stopping?


In Philadelphia, as far as I know, fire trucks are required to stop for red traffic signals. Clearly, unless the traffic light was indicating green in both directions (rarely, people will turn the lights to cause accidents), somebody ran a red light.

But what if the light was not working properly?

Unless you see a green light, or yellow light, pointing in your direction, legally you are supposed to treat it as a stop sign. You don’t know what the light shows in the other direction. It does not matter if you are on a main road and the other road only occasionally has traffic. If they have a green light, they have no reason to stop. Anyway, there is no good reason for these two trucks to enter the intersection with out being able to stop. None.

But they have to get to a fire!

Maybe. They are responding to a report of what may turn out to be a fire, may turn out to be a false alarm, may be to assist EMS.

None of these are good reasons for creating a dangerous situation, just to get there a minute or two faster. Should we allow ambulances to just ignore red lights, because they are also dealing with potentially life threatening emergencies? No. The amount of time saved is unlikely to be significant, but the increase in danger to the public is likely to be significant. If you look at the picture at the top of this post, the traffic signal is on the ground in front of one of the trucks. They may have had an up close view of it, as they knocked it down.

So how did this happen?

My guess is that there was no attempt to do anything other than sound the air horn to warn everybody to get out of the way. Everybody who can hear the air horn and react in time.

Sort of like the apocryphal story in the video below.

There is a very interesting and full history of this story at Snopes.com.[1]

I do not favor coming to a full stop at every red light, but it should be mandatory to slow down enough, that you can stop if necessary. If necessary. This involves critical judgment. A lot of people are uncomfortable with fire fighters, police, or EMS using critical judgment. Critical judgment is essential to the job. It does not matter if it is the police, fire, EMS, or the US Postal Service, there is a responsibility for the safety of others on the road. Even those not on the road, who might be hit during a brief off-road excursion, due to a loss of control.

Back to the original topic. Which cause is correct? Budget cuts or . . . well I don’t think they have released the official cause, yet. The union is probably correct in putting some, but only some, of the blame on the budget cuts.

More to blame are the union and the administration. They have tolerated this kind of driving. If the union truly cares about its members, they should stop this practice, even if it is rare. If a fire fighter is killed, is that taking care of union members? If a fire fighter kills someone else, how is that fire fighter going to deal with that guilt? What about the rest of the fire fighters on the truck? The administration will probably sound exactly like the union on this.

Momentary oversight.

Rare occurrence.

Freak event.


We don’t tolerate this.

Of course they do. They encourage this by diverting attention from it and by making excuses.

If anybody is interested, please record video of any lights and sirens responses that you can. You can send the video to me, or post it somewhere else and send me a link. I will try to do a post showing the kinds of responses that happen regularly in Philadelphia and other cities. This is something that is endorsed by many of the brass, since they respond on these calls, too. Police response, fire response, and ambulance response, but keep the postal workers out of this.



^ 1 The Obstinate Lighthouse