When a green light means YIELD

Car drivers know that a green light generally means GO, but the graphic above illustrates an important exception to that rule. A flashing green light on a vehicle (often an unmarked car) means the driver is responding to an emergency call. For instance, the Valley has experienced some serious structure fires recently that brought out virtually every member of the corps of experienced volunteer fire fighters. A concerned resident contacted The Current after witnessing “a fire fighter with his green light blazing. He could not get a break to cross Opeongo line.” On that occasion, luckily, no one was home inside the property at the time of the fire, but drivers should be aware that a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) explains that because rural fire departments depend so heavily on volunteers, fire fighters can be anywhere — at work or at home — when called out. “When volunteer firefighters are paged to a call, they may not necessarily be in town when they’re responding. Many rely on the use of flashing green lights to get to the firehall so they can get changed, get on the truck and head to the emergency.” But the OAFC also points out a major difficulty with this system:

The problem with the flashing green lights is they only work if drivers know what it is.

Corwin Quade, Madawaska Valley Fire Chief, told The Current, “It [the green light] is to give a heads up that fire fighters are responding to an emergency and we ask the public to be courteous and yield the right of way. The majority of drivers do allow us the right of way.” He explained that the green lights also allow other first responders to know who is arriving at the emergency scene. He said that, unlike flashing red and blue lights, there is no exemption or privilege for responders under the Highway Traffic Act and all rules of the road must be observed.

It’s important to note that it is not only fire fighter volunteers who use flashing green lights to respond in an emergency situation. The official MTO Drivers Handbook includes the note: “Some fire fighters and volunteer medical responders may display a flashing green light when using their own vehicles to respond to a fire or medical emergency. Please yield the right-of-way to help them reach the emergency quickly and safely.”

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