See a green flashing light on a vehicle? Eastern Ontario mayor urges you to pull over

A pick-up truck decked out with green flashing lights for volunteer firefighters. (Nate Vandermeer/CTV News Ottawa)

ELIZABETH-KITLEY TOWNSHIP, ONT. -- A mayor along the seaway is raising awareness about vehicles with flashing green lights, and getting the word out on what exactly they mean.

"I have found that a lot of residents don't know what the green light is all about, so it didn't take too long for me to take that on board to try and spread the news," said Brant Burrow, mayor of Elizabethtown-Kitley Township, Ont.

"I've spoken to people who have lived here all their lives and their offspring don't necessarily know, so why it isn't getting passed down, I don't know," Burrow added.

Many rural fire stations across Ontario rely on volunteer firefighters, including Elizabethtown-Kitley, which has three fire stations with approximately 60 volunteer firefighters, covering an area of 551 square kilometres.

When an emergency call goes out, they are quick to act.

"We literally drop everything in life and jump in the vehicle and flick the green light on," said Brad Buchanan, a 10-year volunteer firefighter. "We're expected to respond in a timely manner."

According to Buchanan, there seems to be confusion on what exactly to do when drivers notice a vehicle with a flashing green light approaching.

He's seen it first hand.

"It's so frustrating when you do get hung up behind somebody and they are not pulling over for you," Buchanan said. "Any oncoming traffic as we're approaching, they always seem to move over but when we're pulling up behind somebody else, they seem to be a little complacent, a little hesitant on knowing what to do."

The courtesy rule: pull over to let the volunteer firefighter pass when it is safe to do so.

"When oncoming traffic pulls off, we're not allowed to pass the person holding us up in our lane. We do have to wait until our lane is clean and we can legally pursue in that direction," Buchanan said.

Volunteer firefighters also have to abide by the Highway Traffic Act, which includes no speeding or driving through red lights.

Elizabethtown-Kitley fire chief Jim Donovan says in times of an emergency, minutes matter.

"They are a great asset for our people responding. Timing is everything," Donovan said. "It doesn't matter if it's a motor vehicle collision or an actual structural fire, a minute can make a huge difference."

In the two-week period between March 24 and April 7, 115 emergency calls went out to volunteer firefighters in the area, which included fires, medical emergencies and vehicle collisions.

"I can't imagine what I would feel like if I ever heard a story where that extra minute made the difference," said Burrow. "This is not a cliché, we are talking real life and death situations here."

Burrow says part of the issue could be city residents who relocate to the county and have maybe never seen one before.

"One of the things I think people understand is, it could be their own house that is in peril or a loved one in a motor vehicle crash," Burrow said. "Once they know, they'll gladly do it (pull over), so rather than keeping all that anger bottle up i decided to do something about it and try to educate people."