HELENA – Winter weather no doubt makes travel difficult for most people, but it also poses a unique challenge for emergency services.
David Webster, ambulance manager for St. Peter’s Health in Helena, said in emergency situations where life is threatened, every moment counts.
“Seconds do matter. Seconds are brain cells, heart cells, muscle tissue, lung tissue,” Webster said.
But when winter weather strikes, it adds complications. Snow, slick roads and commuter traffic can make it hard for ambulances to get where they’re going.
But as Webster will tell you from his years of experience, it’s not necessarily mother nature that’s the biggest problem. It’s other drivers who are struggling simply to get where they’re going. Then you add an ambulance in the mix.
“Things can get pretty chaotic and it’s pretty stressful,” Webster said.
Webster said drivers are often reluctant to yield the right-of-way to emergency vehicles.
“I think people are also very focused on their lane of travel and not necessarily what’s going on around them,” Webster said.
One spot in particular where drivers need to take extra caution is at intersections. According to Webster, that’s statistically where most collisions occur.
“You have people hurrying to stop because there’s an emergency vehicle on approach, so they’ll slide through the intersection into your path,” Webster said.
Ambulance drivers do receive some specialized training for driving in the snow, but it can’t guard against all potential scenarios. Ambulances are much heavier than passenger cars, which can give them more traction, but that means they require more stopping distance.
“This thing isn’t going to stop in the same footpath as a Toyota Camry,” Webster said.
Webster’s best advice to drivers is to be vigilant for an emergency vehicle and anticipate its potential path of travel. Be aware you may have to yield the right of way.