How to safely navigate different intersections

At a minimum, these standard operating guidelines should include the following recommended practices


It is critical for every emergency service organization to adopt and put into practice intersection guidelines for emergency vehicle operators.

At a minimum, these standard operating guidelines should include the following recommended practices.

Controlled intersections

Any intersection controlled by a stop sign, yield sign or yellow or red traffic light requires a complete stop by the emergency vehicle driver if all visible traffic in all lanes cannot be accounted for.

In addition, these steps must be followed:

  • Do not rely on warning devices to clear traffic.
  • Scan the intersection for possible hazards (right turns on red, pedestrians, vehicles traveling fast, etc.), as well as driver options.
  • Begin to slow down well before reaching the intersection and cover the brake pedal with the driver's foot, continue to scan in four directions.
  • Change the siren cadence no less than 200 feet from an intersection.
  • Scan the intersection for possible passing options. Avoid using the opposing lane of traffic if possible.
  • If all visible traffic in all lanes cannot be accounted for, bring the vehicle to a complete stop.
  • Establish eye contact with other vehicle drivers, have your partner communicate all is clear and reconfirm all other vehicles are stopped.
  • Proceed one lane of traffic at a time, treating each lane as a separate intersection.

Railroad crossings

Any time an emergency vehicle driver approaches an unguarded rail crossing, they should bring the apparatus to a complete stop before entering the grade crossing.

Prior to proceeding, the emergency vehicle driver should:

  • Turn off all sirens and air horns.
  • Operate the motor at idle speed.
  • Turn off any other sound-producing equipment or accessories.
  • Open the windows, and listen for a train's horn.

Uncontrolled intersections

Every emergency vehicle driver should do the following at any intersection that either does not have a control device (stop sign, yield or traffic signal) in the travel direction or where the traffic control signal is green:

  • Scan the intersection for possible hazards (right turns on red, pedestrians, vehicles traveling fast, etc.).
  • Observe traffic in all four directions (left, right, front, rear).
  • Slow down if any potential hazards are detected, and cover the brake pedal with the driver's foot.
  • Change the siren cadence no less than 200 feet from intersection.
  • Avoid using the opposing lane of traffic if possible.

About the author

Batt. Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's EFO Program. Contact Robert at Robert.Avsec@FireRescue1.com.

  1. Tags
  2. Safety
  3. Education and Training
  4. Vehicle crash
  5. Fire apparatus
  6. Vehicle Safety

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