The recent deaths of two paramedics here has Emergency Medical Service providers hoping that motorists will learn from the tragedy and keep a watchful eye out for emergency vehicles. They’re hoping the loss of their brethren will at least serve as a wake up call.
Timothy McCormick, 24, and Cody Medley, 22, died a week ago when their ambulance was struck by a vehicle driven by Jade Hammer, 21. The ambulance was not on an emergency run at the time of the accident.
The crash is still under investigation, but as of press time, Hammer had not been charged.
Carl Rochelle, a Plainfield resident and paramedic for 16 years in Indianapolis, says distracted driving is as bad as ever. He said motorists need to put down their phones, turn down the stereos, and focus on what’s going on around them. Indiana Code 9.21.8 sets the standard for yielding the right of way to emergency vehicles.
Rochelle said the distracted driving of other motorists is the biggest hindrance for emergency crews.
“Children, grocery lists, phones, stereos, limiting those on the front side help make more attentive drivers and actually decrease the amount of runs we respond to,” he said. “I’ve actually seen people texting while I’m making an emergency response.”
Rochelle said one thing that contributes to distracted driving but doesn’t get much publicity is in-car noise.
“Manufacturers over the last 10 to 15 years have made cars more aerodynamic and sound resistant so you can enjoy your stereo and cell phone conversation,” he said. “As they work to trap inside noise and prevent outside noise from coming in, people aren’t seeing sirens or lights until it’s within 40 to 50 feet of them.”
He said the optimal response is for motorists to veer to the right to let emergency vehicles pass. Even when that’s not possible, he said, motorists should still know how to act.
“We see a lot of hard stops when we’re responding, cars that all the sudden see us in their mirror and hit the brakes,” he said. “That’s not good. It causes us to have to take maneuvers to avoid an accident. Don’t move into an intersection. We will always try to pass on the left hand side of traffic.
“When it’s safe, we’ll move to the opposite side of the roadway, taking advantage if one exists. At an intersection, we’ll drop our sirens. We don’t want to put people into harm’s way by pushing them through an intersection. At that point, if they’re unable to move to the right, staying where they are is better than pulling into an intersection.”
Emergency runs, he reminds, can be a matter of life or death.
“Seconds do count, especially when you’re talking about cardiac arrests in particular, being able to return circulation (to the patient) and deliver life saving defibrillation or medications,” Rochelle said. “Seconds do make the difference also with folks that would be suffering a major traumatic injury and getting them to more definitive care.”
He said anyone can be guilty of distracted driving, but it is generally more of a problem with younger motorists.
“It’s more of a problem amongst teens,” he said. “They don’t have the driving experience behind them that they need to look up and check traffic. If we look at (distracted driving), it’s not just texting, it’s general cell phone use. You’re tying up a hand. Your mind is distracted.”
He reminds all motorists to also watch for emergency vehicles that are stopped.
“We often have runs where we have to park in the street,” he said. “We’re on the shoulder, but we have a few lanes of traffic. Drop the speed and move away. Being aware of the fact that there’s a stopped emergency vehicle would be very helpful.”