HELENA – After several large fires in the Helena area over the past week and a half, local firefighters are again reminding drivers to move over when they see emergency responders.
Bob Drake, chief of the Tri-Lakes Volunteer Fire Department, was among the responders called in last Sunday to assist the East Valley Volunteer Fire Department with a fire at a saddle shop off Canyon Ferry Road. He said, as he tried to get to the scene, his engine ended up stuck behind a long line of cars.
“They’re screaming for water, and I’ve got 2,000 gallons of water behind me, but I can’t get there because the cars won’t get out of the way,” he said. “That’s the real challenge.”
In this case, Drake said one issue was that some drivers slowed down or pulled to the side of Canyon Ferry Road to watch the fire. That left other drivers without places to move over for fire trucks.
“Fire and car accidents and stuff – it’s really not a spectator sport,” he said. “We don’t want you to stop, we want you to run away from the emergency so that we can get in.”
Drake posted on Facebook this week, urging drivers to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles. He also asked people to stay out of the area where first responders are working whenever they can, to give them space to operate safely.
Montana state law requires all drivers in both directions to pull over when an emergency vehicle using lights and sirens is approaching. They must also slow down – and move to another lane, when safe to do so – when passing a stopped emergency vehicle on the side of the road.
“You don’t want somebody to be in the way of them responding to your fire,” said Drake. “So please teach your kids that are in the car, use it as a teaching moment, tell them ‘We’re going to get out of the way.’ And that’s what we need you to do.”
Drake also asked the public to think twice before posting photos of accident scenes to social media, out of respect for the families of the people involved.