TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) Last year, Magic Valley Paramedics responded to 10,840 calls, which translates to a lot of time spent out on the road.
They’ve seen a steady increase of 2-3% each year for the last five years.
What makes their job even harder is when people don’t move over and let them pass as they head out to emergency calls. When a structure is burning in the city of Twin Falls, you hope Tony Jardine is behind the wheel of the fire truck.
“I’m very comfortable and confident with my abilities,” Jardine said. “However, the near misses occur all the time.”
He’s been with the department for 21 years and has been driving rigs for 18.
“If we’re running down Blue Lakes and we struggle multiple times getting around people, then those minutes add up,” he said
He tells reporter Kelsey Souto, for every minute a fire is in free burn stage, it doubles in size.
“Every time we wait for someone to get over,” Jardine said. “There’s property loss equated to that.”
It’s not just fire trucks who are fighting the crowds on busy roads like Blue Lakes Boulevard, it’s also ambulances and law enforcement.
“You can be cited for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle,” said Sgt. Ryan Howe with the Twin Falls Police Department.
That citation could set you back $90 and add three points to your license.
“We’ll see people freeze up,” Jardine said.
It’s that unpredictable behavior that makes it harder for them to navigate around.
“There’s a lot of confusion about what to do when an emergency vehicle is approaching you from behind,” said James Rhom, Magic Valley Paramedics.
“From merging left, to go ahead getting in the turn lane, speeding up, to staying in front of us, drafting right behind us,” said Jardine.
Instead of panicking, there’s three simple things to remember.
1. Pull over as far to the right as safely possible.
“People think they’re doing us a favor by moving to the left,” Howe said.
2. Come to a complete stop.
“If they can try and merge over to the right, if there's an intersection like that,” Jardine said. “If the front people in that intersection let traffic merge over. We’re gonna go oncoming and we're going to take the high side. The oncoming traffic is also going to have to merge to their right and let us have the right of way.”
3. Wait until the vehicle passes you entirely before re-entering traffic. It is illegal to follow an emergency vehicle in its response to a scene.
“We often see that sometimes when two vehicles are responding in an emergency fashion like two patrol cars are headed that way,” said Sgt. Ken Mencl. “The first patrol car will get through the intersection of where they’re headed to, people not realizing there’s a second one coming through.”
To help them get to scenes quicker, Twin Falls police officers, Twin Falls fire and Magic Valley Paramedics use a system called Opticom at some of the major crossings.
"We can change those lights, we don’t control if we can change the lights or not, it changes for us," Rhom said. "But there is some lead time and some lag time. So sometimes you can overdrive the Opticom where it doesn’t switch. Or the other most dangerous point is where the light changes normally and then the Opticom changes it back."
However Twin Falls County deputies don’t have that system. Check out the dash cam video as a sheriff’s deputy tries to manually clear each intersection.
“Particularly dangerous, our senses are heightened as we are going through that,” Mencl said with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office.
County deputies can also rack up 300 miles on their vehicle in a 12-hour shift as they race from one end of the county to another.
“It can be nerve wracking for the deputy having to go that fast,” Mencl said.
In rural areas, that can mean a response time of 15 to 20 minutes, sometimes even 30.
“Seconds mean a lot getting there," Mencl said. "It’s the difference between life and death. Anytime we get called to a call where there's a significant injury, motor vehicle crash, domestic violence, things along those natures, where time is of the essence.Our rapid response is crucial to us getting there.”
Jardine says they average about 22 calls for service a day between all of their stations and the road congestion plays a major role.
“We have a traffic problem for sure,” Jardine said.
He’s put in more than 100,000 miles driving fire trucks. He tells KMVT their training is rigorous and an firefighter must have at least three years’ experience before they can even apply.
“You have to go through a driver’s academy,” Jardine said. “There’s seven classes, and they’re intensive that take months each. Then there’s a final at the end of it. A driver’s rodeo that’s judged and evaluated. We’ll just fail you.”
The sheriff’s office goes through their own emergency vehicles operation training each year out at the airport.
“We usually get a section out on the runway out there where we can set up some cones,” Mencl said. “Set up some fast courses, some avoidance courses, collision avoidance courses.”
But the key is awareness from both emergency personnel and other drivers, to ensure everyone gets home safely to their families.
“Expect the unexpected,” Mencl said, because drivers never know who might be on the other side of that call, counting the moments until help arrives.
“The last thing I want to do is hurt somebody because I’m driving a car to an emergency or to have somebody pull out in front of me or somebody's that not paying attention,” Howe said.
The four first responders KMVT talked to have more than 70 years of experience combined. They say vehicles are being designed with new technology making them quieter so drivers have to pay extra attention and oftentimes can outrun a siren at 60 miles per hour, so they're relying on those lights to let motorists know they're coming.