A campaign has been launched as fire chiefs say the number of incidents in which motorists hinder emergency service vehicles with erratic driving and poor parking is worse than ever before. The #INeedMySpace campaign from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service comes after an increasing number of drivers have delayed fire engines on the way to incidents. These motorists are putting lives at risk by blocking roads and even stopping on box junctions outside fire stations.
However, it is not just parking that is the problem and firefighters say some drivers are not sure what to do when they hear the sirens blaring.
Some slam their brakes on immediately and risk causing an accident while others try to tailgate behind the vehicle which can cause a crash – particularly if more than one engine has been deployed.
Other people are pulling up outside stations to do the school run or cutting through the service’s Eastleigh headquarters to avoid traffic lights.
Rushmoor Fire Station recently had several appliances blocked in when a coach parked outside bay doors so passengers could get off to stretch their legs and have a cigarette.
On another occasion crews were obstructed when a motorist left his car outside the building while he went for a kebab.
A bay door was also blocked off so a doting son could meet his mum directly off her train.
Now photographs and videos have been posted under the campaign hashtag to show examples of these practices and help educate motorists.
Assistant Chief Officer Andy Bowers said: “The issue of motorists blocking the paths of emergency services vehicles is worse than ever before.
“Some drivers are parking opposite one another making an entire road inaccessible while others are actually stopping by station exits, often in the hatched areas, and some are even leaving their cars on our grounds.
“On the road we have to deal with motorists who are unsure what to do to allow emergency vehicles to pass, and often slam on their brakes the minute they hear the siren, as well as people who try and tailgate when we have gone past.
“Everyone should make sure that they know what to do for emergency vehicles, and ensure that their actions do not slow our vehicles down.
“Please also remember that although you may only hear one siren, there may regularly be more than one emergency vehicle responding.
“These issues are causing delays and when tackling a fire or cutting somebody out of a car this can be the difference between life and death.”
The service is now giving guidance for motorists on how best to help emergency services get to incidents.
The golden rules are:
- CALM: Don’t panic or speed up in an attempt to get out of the way. Don’t go through red lights or veer into a bus lane as you will still be prosecuted. Do not attempt to outrun a fire engine. You are not allowed to drive down the hard shoulder. You will still be breaking the law.
- ALERT: Turn distracting music down and check mirrors to help determine the direction and number of emergency vehicles. Look for somewhere safe to pull in but avoid kerbs, pavements, bends and junctions. Watch out for other motorists braking suddenly.
- RESPONSE: Indicate, check your mirror and move to the left when it is safe to do so. Wait patiently to ensure all emergency vehicles have gone and then safely move back out into traffic.
In addition to these guidelines the public are urged to give a stationary emergency service vehicle a wide berth when moving around it.
It is never acceptable to park on the grounds of a fire station without a legitimate reason.
HFRS Academy Manager for Driving Lee Phillips said: “It is vital that people follow these safety messages which are reflected in the Highway Code.
“Nobody wants to delay the emergency services getting to an incident and by making a few small changes or understanding more about how to react when you hear a siren you could help save a life.”
The Highway Code rule 219 states: “You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights, or traffic officer and incident support vehicles using flashing amber lights.
“When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs.
“If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road.
“Do not endanger yourself, other road users or pedestrians and avoid mounting the kerb.
“Do not brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you.”
The campaign has already made international headlines and gone viral on social media smashing records for the service with one post alone reaching about half a million people on Facebook and being shared more than 4,600 times.
The same post on Twitter attracted 184 retweets and 124 likes.
Videos, gifs and photos were all used across social media platforms including Instagram and YouTube which attracted a huge following.
Our campaign was backed by Hampshire Constabulary and South Central Ambulance Service which both retweeted our content. The appeal was also publicised at blue light conferences and supported by other fire services from across the UK and beyond.
Content was also shared by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) as well as Blue Light Aware and Road Safety GB which both officially endorsed the campaign.
St Mary’s Station Manager Nigel Cooper, whose station was particularly affected, said: “This is a vital campaign and it is having a visible effect.
“We are one of the worst affected stations when it comes to people parking outside bay doors.
“The online messaging backed up with posters, flying and extensive press coverage is really helping to educate people on the devastating possible consequences of delaying an emergency vehicle.
“Bizarre driving and bad parking are frustrations every firefighter has experienced.”
Crew Manager Duncan Foster, from Rushmoor, echoed these sentiments and added: “This campaign is certainly raising awareness of why people shouldn’t park outside fire stations.
“It has given us the freedom to proactively get that message out there and we have seen a difference in the number of people parking outside and their reaction when approached.
“We still have problems with people doing the school run and commuters who don’t want to queue in the traffic.”
Romsey Watch Manager Antony Hurle said: “We at Romsey Fire Station felt strongly compelled to support the I Need My Space campaign.
“Not only to help members of the public understand that they can help us arrive to an incident quickly by acting appropriately when encountering an emergency vehicle on the road but also by ensuring they park their vehicle to allow sufficient space for an emergency vehicle to pass.
“We have been particularly affected by road users blocking the forecourt of Romsey Fire Station whilst queuing at near by traffic lights.
“This area has yellow hatch markings to ensure it is kept clear to allow an emergency response.
“We have focussed on educating road users that we are in fact an RDS station therefore a vital part is our response is getting our personnel into the station in civilian vehicles.
“There have been occasions the appliance has rolled out of the doors with warning devices operating and the queuing traffic has been unable to move leading to a delay.
“We are acutely aware of the difference that can be made in the safety of those who summon our help in being delayed even by such small amounts of time.”
For more information, go to www.hantsfire.gov.uk