Volunteers, dash-mounted courtesy lights and youth: a recipe for trouble if ever there was one.
That switch to activate the light seems to also activate something in our brains. Is it the false promise of some power over other motorists that makes people rash, arrogant and dangerous?
The young man in Rock Hill, S.C., who authorities say used his dash-mounted emergency lights while delivering pizzas, was arrested and suspended from his volunteer rescue squad. He'd been on the department only two months and was required to wait six months before having POV lights — and then only using them for what the rescue squad calls Priority-One emergencies.
This is hardly an epidemic among volunteers allowed to use these lights. And this man has certainly not been found guilty — he denies using the lights and the allegations are based on the report of one 18-year-old witness.
This isn't the next great threat facing the fire service — the sky is not falling.
Yet, I suspect there are more incidents like this that go unreported by media outlets. I can think of a few cases from my own experience.
Worse, and more common, is how the lights change the driving behavior of those responding from home. The adrenaline rush when the tone drops combined with that false sense of importance the dash lights offer can give drivers a "permission" to take chances they ordinarily wouldn't take.
We all know that overly aggressive driving is the quickest way to turn a potential rescuer into a potential victim. We also know that the 30 or 90 seconds saved by fast driving does not make a lot of difference on the emergency scene.
Emergency, or courtesy, lights in POVs are good. Used properly, they can win you a right of way at stop signs and coax slower drivers to let you pass. But they need to be issued with caution and their use monitored.
The two months the Rock Hill volunteer had logged is certainly not enough time to have a dash light. The six-month waiting period required by the Rock Hill rescue squad may not be long enough either, especially if they have a low call volume.
If your department allows POV lights, please take the time to review how and when they are used. And, if you have policies and procedures that work, please share your best practices in the comment section.