GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With heavy winter weather moving in, the best advice from the experts is stay off the roads.
But first responders don’t have that option.
Police, firefighters, paramedics and tow truck drivers will still be out there, helping you when you get into trouble.
It’s dangerous work on a good weather day.
When a driver ignores the colored flashing lights of an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, the end result can be tragic.
“These are very expensive rigs. But we’ve also got personnel that are not replaceable. And you’re not replaceable either,” said Grand Rapids Fire Department Captain Bill Smith.
It has happened so often, Grand Rapids Fire Department firefighters came up with a way to block the threat of a roadway crash.
GRFD firefighters’ response to highway accidents includes a former Public Works Department dump truck painted fire engine red to block traffic.
A big shock absorber is hooked on the back of the truck.
“It will crush. But it’s also probably going to total your car, but at least save you from a worse injury,” said Smith, showing off the truck and its array of LED lights and road arrow sign.
It’s not just firefighters — EMS workers, police officers, road and utility crews are at risk.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety, tow truck drivers are 15 times more likely to die doing their job than any other private industry worker.
If those stories aren’t enough to convince you to slow down when you see their flashing lights, consider this: Every state in the U.S., including Michigan, have so-called Move Over laws on the books.
“If you see an emergency vehicle that is on the road and their lights are activated, you need to slow down and move over. That is a misdemeanor, and you could find yourself with a ticket,” said Smith.
But a ticket could be the least of your worries.
“If we get injured, you may face some jail time. And if we unfortunately meet our end on the highway and it’s your fault, you’re going to go to jail for a long time,” said Smith.
He says there’s an easy way to avoid the danger in this kind of weather. Just ask yourself one question.
“Before you even get to that car, do you really need to go out?” said Smith.
GRFD is bringing on additional crews for the storm.
Many of those firefighters will be assigned to department pickup trucks with plows on the front to help get emergency crews through the snow.