Use of Flashing Green Lights in Personal Vehicles
Public Fire Safety Guidelines
Use of Flashing Green Lights in Personal Vehicles
To set safe driving expectations for firefighters when responding to emergencies using flashing green lights as well as to make firefighters aware of legislation and insurance issues governing the use of such devices..
The fire service in conjunction with auto insurance companies recognizes the self-less and admirable service provided by firefighters throughout the Province and as such want to reduce the possibility of any misuse of the flashing green light when responding to emergencies.
The Highway Traffic Act (HTA), 1990 allows firefighters to display a flashing green light when responding to emergencies. The use of flashing green lights on or in vehicles is restricted to the Ontario fire service. Adoption of its use is strictly voluntary. There are several response considerations that users of such devices must be aware of:
- The purpose of flashing green lights is to help other drivers recognize a firefighter en-route to an emergency and be courteous and yield the right-of-way
- A flashing green strobe light on a fire response vehicle can designate the Incident Command (I.C.) vehicle or the HAZMAT vehicle in some departments
- Firefighters may use flashing green lights on personally owned vehicles while proceeding to emergencies, including response to the scene or to the fire station. Once on scene flashing green lights are to be shut off so that they are not confused with stationary on-scene incident command or HAZMAT emergency vehicles unless the light is being used in a stationary vehicle for the purposes of directing additional incoming emergency vehicles
- Personal vehicles of firefighters are not emergency vehicles
- Driving aggressively, proceeding through stop signs or stop lights without stopping, driving in the on coming lane of traffic when responding to calls with a flashing green light are a few examples of dangerous and reckless driving behaviour that will not be tolerated in the fire service and may serve as reasonable grounds for an insurance company to discontinue coverage if they become aware of such behaviour
- Developing proper behaviour is essential to ensure a safe response
The flashing green light does not afford any privileges or exemptions under the HTA, 1990
Highway Traffic Act Considerations:
Under the HTA, 1990, fire department vehicles can exceed the posted speed limit when safe to do so; they can go through red traffic lights if emergency lights are flashing, the siren is sounding, after the vehicle comes to a complete stop and then proceeds when the way is clear and it is safe to do so. Vehicles with flashing green lights do not have these special permissions or added response considerations. Subsection 62 (16) of the HTA, 1990, “Vehicles of firefighters”, stipulates:
62. (16) A firefighter, within the meaning of subsection 1(1) of the FPPA, 1997, may carry on or in his or her vehicle a lamp that produces intermittent flashes of green light and may operate the light if the motor vehicle is proceeding to a fire or other emergency.
It is important to note that the HTA, 1990 permits “a” flashing green light. The Ministry of Transportation Ontario (MTO) recommends using one flashing green light to promote consistency and make it more likely people will recognize what the flashing green light means. Manufacturing technology available at the time the legislation was introduced was limited to two basic styles of lights. The first being the 360o revolving roof mounted light and the second being the dash mounted revolving light with a reflective mirror attached. The variety of flashing lights produced today may not be suitable or appropriate for volunteer firefighters responding in personal vehicles. The MTO recommends using a Class 1 warning light that is to Society of Automotive Engineer (SAE) standards.
Insurance Act Considerations:
The Insurance Act, 1990 sets out definitions, requirements and guidelines insurance companies must take into consideration in dealing with clients.
Firefighters using personally owned vehicles to respond to emergencies should not be denied insurance coverage or have insurance rates increased simply for using their personal vehicle in this way. In the event of concerns over insurance coverage, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario is the agency with authority to resolve this issue.
Firefighter’s personal auto insurance rates can be affected if while using a flashing green light they are involved in an at-fault accident or are ticketed for traffic violations by local police. Before installing or using a flashing green light firefighters need to consider the following:
- Review and adhere to departmental guidelines or policies relating to the use of flashing green lights
- Notify their insurance company they may use a personal vehicle with or without a flashing green light to respond to emergencies
There are three elements a firefighter must assess when responding to an emergency when using a flashing green light in his or her personally owned vehicle:
- The need to use a flashing green light for a response to an emergency
- The need to drive the vehicle safely and follow the rules of the road while en-route to the fire station or the emergency
- The need to demonstrate the correct behaviour when responding to emergencies and using a flashing green light
Firefighters responding to an emergency while using a flashing green light must be capable of ensuring a safe response is achieved relative to anticipated road and weather conditions and the following variable factors:
- Vehicle suitability and readiness for use in responding. Proper care and maintenance of personal vehicles used to respond to emergencies by a firefighter is the responsibility of the firefighter
- The need to respond using a flashing green light. Firefighters should continually assess the need for continued response and should discontinue response en-route if the incident is stood down or the call is cancelled
- Awareness of responsibilities and legal requirements when deciding upon the need for an emergency response using a flashing green light. Firefighters should have knowledge of the provisions of the HTA, 1990 as it pertains to emergency vehicles, non-emergency vehicles and response to emergencies
- The effect flashing green lights may have on other motorists. Some motorists do not understand the significance of such lights and may become confused or react with unplanned and unpredictable actions
- The time and care taken to ensure proper installation and placement of the flashing green light in or on a vehicle to ensure that it will not “blind” or distract other drivers or the firefighter driving his/her own vehicle
- The need to continually assess and adjust driving speed to that appropriate to the posted speed limit, traffic conditions, road conditions, driver’s personal limitations, vehicle limitations and the urgency of the response, necessary to ensure safety is maintained
- How attitude affects behaviour and performance when driving in emergency response situations. Firefighters should ensure that excitement, adrenaline and the desire to respond quickly do not affect the decision making process while responding to emergencies. Deciding to make rolling stops, go through stop signs, cross solid yellow lines or to drive with excessive speed are examples of unacceptable driving behaviours
- The need for appropriate response to recognized fatigue and stress levels, which may affect judgment and performance. Physiological changes can impair judgment
- Awareness of the need to place safety above all else
Demonstration of a calm, considerate and professional manner when driving
Development of Operational Guideline on Flashing Green Lights:
Municipal fire service officials must consider the value of implementing an operational guideline for the use of flashing green lights. Fire department officials should ensure that every firefighter within the department is required to review such guidelines, particularly newly hired firefighters and those who use a flashing green light. Risk management and potential liability should be at the forefront of their considerations. The following are suggested points that such a guideline should include:
- Response guidelines for firefighters when responding to emergencies with personal vehicles including the use of flashing green lights on the vehicle
- The responsibility of firefighters to respond and arrive safely at emergencies
- The need to position personal vehicles in a manner that will not hinder emergency operations when arriving on scene
- Reference to operational guidelines that relate to considerations such as the carrying of personal protective equipment in vehicles
- Insurance coverage for personnel responding in their personal vehicles is not the responsibility of the municipality. Firefighters must have insurance, as required by law, when operating personal vehicles to and from the station or emergency scene
- The responsibility of firefighters to inform their insurance company if they respond in their own vehicle to emergency calls for the fire department
- The operation of personal vehicles is governed by the HTA, 1990
- There are no provisions in the HTA that exempt firefighters from compliance with all regulations, regardless of the circumstances
- If a firefighter elects to use a flashing green light, the light shall meet the provisions set out in Subsection 62 (16) of the HTA, 1990
- Where possible, green lights should be installed in a standardized area that does not impede vehicle safety features
- The need for personnel to report to the Incident Commander to receive assignment, log in their arrival time and drop off their on-scene accountability tag when arriving at the scene.
- Make reference to PFSG 04-89-03 “Use of Flashing Green Lights in Personal Vehicles”, the Highway Traffic Act, 1990, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, Insurance Act, 1990 Section 237 and Regulation 664, other relevant departmental guidelines / policies (i.e. Incident Command, Accountability, Traffic Control, etc.)
Codes, Standards and Best Practices:
Codes, Standards and Best Practices resources available to assist in establishing local policy on this assessment are listed below. All are available at http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/ . Please feel free to copy and distribute this document. We ask that the document not be altered in any way, that the Office of the Fire Marshal be credited and that the documents be used for non-commercial purposes only.
• Highway Traffic Act, 1990
• Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997
• Insurance Act, 1990 Section 237 and Regulation 664
• SAE Standard J845: Optical Warning Devices for Authorized Emergency, Maintenance, and Service Vehicles, May 1997
See also PFSG
04-89-12 Use of Flashing Green Lights in Personal Vehicles
04-69-13 Coordination, Development, Approval and Distribution of Standard Operating Guidelines for Various Disciplines