'Let us do our jobs': Quebec firefighter says drivers won't get out of the way

When the lights are on and the siren is blaring, every second counts for firefighters like Melanie Irwin.

“We’re trying to save lives, we’re trying to get there as fast as we possibly can,” Irwin, a 20-year veteran of the Kazabazua, Que. fire department said.

What Irwin and her team don’t need are slowdowns, particularly drivers who refuse to get out of the way of emergency vehicles.

“Somebody’s house could be burning, or somebody could be trapped inside a car; for them those seconds really matter,” she said.

Video captured Saturday en route to a forest fire between Gracefield and Kazabazua shows a fire truck stuck behind a line of vehicles, many unyielding, even as the firefighters repeatedly honk their horn, sounds the sirens and flashes their lights.

“I don’t know how to be more visible. We have lights flashing, the truck is huge,” Irwin bemoaned.

The incident is hardly isolated. Irwin says she responds to roughly 50 calls a year, and most are held up by drivers on highway 105.

“It’s very frustrating. It happens pretty much every call,” she said.

Adding to the challenge is the sheer size of the fire truck and the hilly terrain. Carrying up to 15 tons of water means that every time the truck slows, the response time grows larger.

“Not only is it the seconds it takes for us to get somebody to pull over, but it also takes a while to get back going up to that speed,” Irwin said.

According to Irwin, the issue is becoming more prevalent. In Ottawa, paramedics say they’re accustomed to dealing with challenging drivers.

“Our paramedics respond to over 144,000 calls a year, so obviously there are times where the motorists are not making the best choice to help us,” said Marc-Antoine Deschamps, a public information officer for the Ottawa Paramedic Service.

“People driving into oncoming traffic, tailgating ambulances, or failing to move over when we are stopped on the side of the roadway; these are the most disastrous behaviours we are seeing,” he added.

Deschamps says drivers should always move out of the way of oncoming emergency vehicles by moving to the right, only when it is safe to do so.

He adds drivers also need to slow down and move away from emergency vehicles that may be stopped or operating on the side of the road.

“Time is of the essence when we are responding, we want to make sure we get there safely,” Deschamps said.

In Ontario drivers, who break the Move Over law by failing to yield to emergency vehicles or provide enough space can be fined up to $2000; in Quebec the fine is $200 to $300.

“Pull over and let us do our job, let us get there. We’re there to save lives, we’re not out driving around for a Sunday drive,” Irwin said.