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Green Light program remains in limbo

By RYAN KING

Fire Chief Jerry Musseau and Deputy Chief Todd Strickland (far right) have red lights in their personal vehicle, but a program to allow volunteer firefighters to avail of green lights in their personal vehicles to respond to a scene seems to have stalled – © File photo

PORT AUX BASQUES — It’s universally accepted that whenever an emergency happens, seconds count. With this in mind, volunteer firefighters in this province have been asking over the past few decades to be granted permission to install flashing green lights in their personal vehicles, known elsewhere as the Green Light Program.

These lights would not require individuals to pull over by law, much like a red flashing emergency light. The green flashing light would indicate only that the person behind you is an emergency responder on the way to a scene, and if possible, to pull over out of courtesy.

Port aux Basques Fire Chief, Jerry Musseau, explained that this has been something that the Newfoundland and Labrador Firefighters Association has been trying to get in place for years.

“The light is not an emergency light. It’s what’s known as a courtesy light. And in order to get it approved, for firefighters to do that, that has to be passed by the government and so on. It’s not a light that you can go out and buy and stick in our cars, and say that we are going to use a green light. It just doesn’t work that way under the highway traffic act,” explained Musseau.

While the Green Light program has been in development for years, the goal has yet to be reached.

“The Newfoundland Firefighter Association has been pushing for this for years, and for some reason it doesn’t seem like it’s getting much movement in through the government. I know that it might have to go through the Transportation and Works Department, and look at the Highway Traffic Act, and so on, but for many years now I know they have been trying to get this pushed through. But they’re not having much success,” said Musseau.

Musseau noted that many other fire departments have implemented the Green Light program.

“I know that – to my understanding – most provinces, especially in eastern Canada, for most of the volunteer firefighters the provinces have approved those green flashing lights many years ago. I’ve seen them over on the mainland. But why it’s not getting through in this province, I’m not quite sure,” said Musseau.

Regardless of whether or not the firefighters have the ability to use the Green Light programs, the Fire Chief insists that they always obey every traffic regulation when responding to a scene.

“The light doesn’t give anyone the right to drive any faster than you would any other day, or doesn’t give you any rights to go through stop signs. It’s just a courtesy light to let someone else know that this person behind me must be going to an emergency situation because he has his green light flashing. And they’re only asking you to move over so that they can get through a little bit faster,” explained Musseau.

Some volunteer firefighters are using their vehicle’s emergency flashers to get to a scene.

“Most boys use their flashers, but again, that’s just something that they’re doing on their own. There’s no law saying that you’re allowed to use your flashers when responding. But that’s something, most fire departments, will do that,” said Musseau.

“But myself as Chief, and the Assistant Chief, we have got red lights. We were permitted. The only two people in the fire departments in the province that are allowed to have the red lights in their car are the Chief and the Assistant Chief so we’ve got red lights, not green ones. We have to have a permit from the government.”

Musseau believes that the green courtesy lights would let firefighters get to the scene quicker.

“I don’t know of any major delays of responding in town with traffic, but there are some small bits of delays because of traffic. And the lights would hopefully help them to respond a little bit faster, I think, yes.”

Joe Power, President of the Firefighters Association, said that this was in the provincial government’s hands now, and noted that the Fire and Emergency Services (FES) would be better able to explain the status of the program.

“We’ve brought it up to FES and the government on behalf of the membership. But it’s been a lot of disputes over many years whether or not it could work,” stated Power.

Derek Simmons, Fire Commissioner, said that the program has not been recommended based on the research done.

“As far as I understand, it’s nowhere,” said Simmons. “I know we’ve done some work on the program – the research that we’ve done – our recommendation was to not move forward with it.”

Danielle Barron, Director of Communication for the Department of Justice and Public Safety, clarified the status of the Green Light Program. She stated that interest in the use of flashing lights for the personal vehicles of volunteer firefighters has been brought up periodically since the 1980s, and noted the difference between flashing lights on designated emergency vehicles versus other flashing lights.

“Except where the flashing light is used on a designated emergency vehicle the use of a flashing light does not provide any privileges to the driver. There is no requirement for other drivers to yield the right of way to non-designated emergency vehicles. Drivers must continue to follow posted speed limit signs, stop at stop signs, stop at red lights and must stop for school bus signals.”

Barron went on to explain that the Green Light Program is not currently in practice in this province, and that the Fire Commissioner does not recommend moving forward with a flashing light system for volunteer firefighters.

“The perceived benefit of such a program may not outweigh risk. There would be very little time savings realized from drivers who may voluntarily yield the right of way. The Fire Commissioner is of the view that any perceived time savings could be found with additional training in fire response ground operations and setup,” explained Barron.

Instead of using flashing lights, said Barron, the Fire Commissioner would instead recommend fire departments develop communication policies and procedures. Also, they should provide training that would increase the effectiveness of the fire suppression operation after firefighters safely arrive on scene.

Barron is aware that other provinces have implemented a Green Light Program successfully.

“We are aware that some other provinces allow flashing lights on the personal vehicles of volunteer firefighters. While the regulations vary between provinces, it is our understanding that in some cases using this light requires a driver education course and a vehicle inspection at a cost to the volunteer firefighter. In other provinces the municipality accepts the liability associated with vehicles using the flashing light system.”

ryanking@wreckhousepress.com

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