Firefighters responding to calls get flipped the bird, yelled at, and sometimes hit by angry drivers

Posted at 10:20 PM, Dec 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-12 23:27:59-05

Firefighters are more likely to get killed responding to an emergency in an intersection than anywhere else.

ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska and photographer Randy Wright rode along with firefighters from Station 48 and Station 49 in Clearwater to get a better sense of what they are up against, especially during peak traffic hours.

“You can tell right away theres an influx of traffic on the road,” firefighter paramedic Casey Matz said. “It takes longer to get places. We have snow birds down here this time of year, than any other time of year. I would say most of the calls are the elderly.”

Matz rides the “box,” as they call it, the rescue unit that runs on medical calls. Clearwater Police recently released a video that shows a car running a red light nearly hitting a rescue unit. That’s something not always captured on red light cameras, but Matz says it happens way too often.

“We notice, a lot of times, people not paying attention people getting in our way,” Matz said. “We honk our horn and try to squeeze past somebody and we’ll kind of look and tell people where to go to get by. They’ll look at us and throw their arms up like we are the bad guys. There’s been times multiple times where care is delayed because of our response time getting traffic.”

According to statistics from the NHTSA and the United States Fire Administration, firetruck accidents are the second leading cause of on-the-job deaths for firefighters. Nationally, since 2016 76 firefighters have died while responding to a call. In the past 10 years there have been an estimated 31,600 accidents involving fire vehicles and most of those accidents occur at intersections.

“It’s aggravating, you just have to be prepared for them to get in your way, you gotta be prepared to get out of their way,” Kevin “Biff” Boaden said “It’s probably every other call. There’s not a time when there’s not someone getting out of your way. There’s times when they just can’t and I totally understand that. On several occasions I’ve had people flip us off, they shoot us the bird sitting there as we are trying to go through traffic.”

During our ride along we witnessed a lot of drivers stopping and moving over, but there were a lot of others who didn’t. Both Matz and Boaden know it only takes one call, one driver, one bad decision to slow down their response time or lead to something worse. If you see a first responder firefighters just ask you don’t flip them the bird just, “use your head, stay calm, stop and let us go around you,” Matz said.

If you’d like to do your own research on firefighter statistics, click here.