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Emergency Vehicle Operations


Emergency vehicles on standby. SecurityMatters FILE PHOTO.
Emergency vehicles on standby. SecurityMatters FILE PHOTO.

The mobility aspect of Public Safety and Security is achieved by the use of Emergency Vehicles. Emergency Vehicles these days are being used not only in response to emergency situations, but in multi-task/multi-role capacity.  They are normally used in routine patrol and normal incident response. Emergency Vehicle Operations competence is something generally taken for granted by most security and public safety institutions here in the Philippines, more so than effective communication systems. There are a lot of things that go into an emergency vehicle and its operations, to be left in the hands of untrained persons and none public safety oriented persons to equip and operate. It’s the ‘move’ aspect in public safety and security of the “shoot, move and communicate” considerations in military planning.

In this day of high mobility and the need for speed of action, the proper selection, equipage, and operation of this tool is a very important consideration.  A serious consequence of the misuse of an emergency vehicle can lead to great liability, not only to the agency operating that vehicle and its operator but also to its client. There are also branding problems, as the misuse can lead people to perceive this agency as incompetent and stupid, leading to diminished trust and respect. The most serious is its possibility to cause death to innocent pedestrians or motorist in its improper use.

Every piece of equipment placed onto these emergency vehicles has a purpose in the way they are installed, mounted, and operated.  Let’s start with the most favorite thing to put on an emergency vehicle which is the emergency light array.  These are commonly placed on the roof, where they can be highly visible by the public, especially when[s1]  responding to an incident at a high rate of speed. These light arrays, which are visual emergency indicators, work in conjunction with the audible emergency equipment, such as sirens, horns, and loud speakers. The light array or light bar should be able to project a forward-facing colored light at least visible to 400 feet.  Most commonly a red light is used by public safety vehicles to indicate to the front that the vehicle is responding to an emergency or at an emergency and for those in its path to drive to the side of the road and give way. This can also mean for the vehicle or pedestrian it is being shined upon that they are being detained for some type of violation or investigation.  Normally, the light array is used in conjunction with the siren, when the vehicle is in motion.  The vehicle is not to be operated in response to an emergency situation, when either of this equipment mentioned is not functioning[s2] . Like any piece of transportation equipment, it must abide by all road rules.

The amber light, flashing to the rear, is always activated to indicate that there is a ‘hazard.’ Meaning this emergency vehicle is either running at a higher rate of speed than the prevailing traffic or . it is stopped on the roadway to conduct some type of law enforcement duties or attend to an emergency (the forward-facing lights may not be activated).

The white-colored lights at the side of the light bar are alley lights and can be activated individually.  They do not blink but are used to look at dark areas of your patrol area, either to the left or right. When responding to an emergency, both the siren and flashing lights should be activated continuously.

The emergency vehicle should also be clearly identifiable as such, with clear and visible markings. It should say what agency it belongs to and what type of activities the vehicle is designed to perform. Contact numbers with body identifiers should also be marked on the vehicle for ready reference. Of importance, too, is that it stays clean and free of body damage in order to give a good impression of professionalism and authority, much like the wearing of a uniform.

Other necessary lighting equipment is vehicle-mounted spotlights.  These pieces of equipment are very important in the ability of the patrol officer to see other areas at night, beyond the coverage of one’s headlights or ally lights.  They’re also essential in providing concealment during vehicle and pedestrian intercepts in the hours of darkness.  This light is also important in keeping the operating area clearly visible in case a suspect or suspicious person decides to abandon some evidence, without the officer having to hold on to it.  These spotlights are mounted on the vehicle and are able to pivot on its base, remaining in the direction the officer wants to illuminate. They are manually operated from inside the vehicle, either by the driver or his partner.

Most emergency vehicles these days are now equipped with flashing headlights that flash alternately to move traffic to one side.  These are usually called “wig-wags.” Some forms come in strobe versions, either in white or colored bulbs. These lamps come on when the overheads are activated to what is called “code 3” setting, which is basically all functions activated.  “Code 3” means an emergency response to highly critical incident in progress, requiring the quickest response, thus proceeding with lights and siren activated. In code 3 mode, light bars are equipped with either rotating lights or flashing strobes or a combination.

The siren controller has several settings, with a few of them being wail, yelp, horn, and other innovative sounds. These settings can be set to sound with the push of the vehicle’s horn button located on the steering wheel and when the emergency equipment pod for Code 3 is activated.  When the vehicle horn button is pushed during code 3 setting, the siren tone will alternate from wail to yelp and this is used to get the attention of motorists and pedestrians in areas such as intersections. The public address system is usually used to give instructions to suspects or to the public.

The switches for this equipment need to be located at or near the visual plane of the vehicle operator so that in an emergency the equipment can be manipulated without losing sight of the road and the suspect’s vehicle. Placement of equipment is important for ergonomics and maintaining control of the vehicle during an emergency response. It keeps the operator’s activities convenient while maintaining safety, as the whole time receiving and reacting to stimulus from several sources.

Now, operating the emergency vehicle is very important, as it is a deadly weapon, much deadlier than the handgun or the rifle you carry. Agreeably, it is a much larger caliber and more effective in taking a human life.

EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course) are designed to develop emergency vehicle driving skills. These are unlike your ‘defensive driving’ courses nor are they racing schools. In an emergency vehicle, the operator has more sensory inputs they have to deal with.  The operator not only needs to drive the vehicle, operate the emergency equipment, but also monitor his radio, communicate his status and watch the traffic, while he formulates his tactics to whatever incident he is responding to or engaged in, like in a vehicle pursuit.

Usually the EVOC starts with a classroom instruction where the basic vehicle dynamics is explained.  The exercises are also shown and their relevance to emergency vehicle operations discussed. The vehicle exercises start with a basic skills exercise, like the parallel parking and its hows and whys. A slow forward and reverse slalom to exercise the proper hand positions, proper steering input, use of mirrors, and proper seating position. As the student develops, more speed and varied exercises to highlight different scenarios in emergency vehicle operations are introduced. Through the whole process, different special emergency vehicle driving techniques are inputted, shown to the student, and performed, such as maintaining the horizon and how it relates to smoothness in driving which is proportionate to the ability to drive faster.

Emergency Vehicle Operations is a perishable skill and needs to be refreshed just like weapons proficiency. Stay sharp and be safe.

*Bingen Mendezona is a Security Executive with almost 10 years experience in the private security industry. He used to work in the government sector as a law enforcement officer in California for a considerably large Sheriff’s department in the San Francisco Bay Area, with extensive experience in patrol operations. Prior to joining the law enforcement, he used to work  in Fire Suppression industry in the San Francisco area. He took up B.S. in Industrial Engineering.