Here's Why First Responders Block Extra Lanes of Traffic

Hint: they aren't trying to slow down your coffee run.

Gettyimages/RJ Sangosti

Ever wondered why emergency services personnel block additional lanes of traffic with their vehicles when operating on a public street or highway? Well, The Drive is here to help you understand.

 When fire, police or EMS personnel are operating at a motor vehicle accident, they are primarily concerned about two things: scene safety and treating the patient. Regardless of what branch of the emergency services you are in, one of the first things you are taught is to ensure scene safety on every call.

Since roadways are inherently dangerous to work on, fire, police, and EMS personnel will make every effort to minimize the amount of time personnel have their feet on the pavement. 

The first arriving unit on an accident scene is usually a police officer. Their role is to radio for additional resources as needed, and begin establishing a safe scene. If the officer is able to do so (i.e. if the they aren't needed for first aid), they will begin laying down flares "upstream"—before the accident, in emergency vehicle positioning parlance—to warn other motorists of the accident ahead. The officer's vehicle should be positioned downstream of the flares, but before the accident, to serve as the initial line of protection.

Next, fire and EMS personnel will arrive on scene. The fire units will park "downstream" of the officer, and will use their vehicle as a shield between motorists and the emergency personnel working on scene. Rather than parking with the nose facing directly downstream, however, the fire apparatus will park at an angle, to ensure the truck is providing enough space for personnel to work safely. The fire truck operator (or engineer) will also make sure their wheels are turned away from the accident scene; this is to make sure the apparatus will roll way from the scene, not towards it, in the event a motorist were to hitting the fire truck. 

Finally, the ambulance will park all the way downstream, ahead of fire and police. This ensures maximum protection from speeding traffic. There are certain exceptions where the ambulance cannot park downstream of the accident; regardless, it is crucial that there must always be a vehicle upstream of the ambulance, shielding the personnel working on it.

Eastchester EMS

Proper emergency vehicle positioning

Although emergency personnel are the primary caregivers on scene, civilians driving past can do their part as well by obeying some simple rules:

  • Slow down and move over when you see flashing lights.
  • Don’t rubberneck. Keep moving and focus on the road ahead.
  • Don’t honk. It’s rude, it adds unneeded stress, and it impedes patient care.