Ask the trooper: Volunteers need to go through proper channels to get red light for personal vehicleE-mail email@example.com or mail your question to Duluth News Tribune, Attn: Ask the State Trooper, 424 W. First St., Duluth, MN 55802. You may remain anonymous if you choose.
By: Sgt. Curt S. Mowers, Duluth News Tribune
Q: I am a volunteer fireman, and I have friends who are with Emergency Medical Services. Please tell us what the law is on getting and using a red light on our own vehicle when we are responding to fire/EMS calls.
A: Minnesota law is very clear on what can be used on a personal vehicle for response to fire/EMS calls. Under Minnesota State Statute 169.58, in part, “Upon obtaining a permit from the commissioner of public safety, any motor vehicles operated by an active member of a volunteer fire department authorized by or contracting with any city, town or township in this state … may be equipped with a lamp emitting a red light to the front of such vehicle. The lens of such lamp shall be not more than three inches in diameter. Such lamp shall be lighted only when the member of the volunteer fire department … is responding to an emergency call in connection with duties as a volunteer firefighter. ... The commissioner of public safety is hereby authorized to issue permits on applications of a member of a volunteer fire department properly certified to by the chief of said volunteer fire department.”
You can get a permit if your fire chief/EMS supervisor and department authorizes it. You cannot simply apply on your own. When you are responding to a call, the light is simply asking the motoring public to give you space to respond. They are in no way required to give you the right of way, nor are you to assume you have the right of way. A volunteer responding to a call has no rights as an emergency vehicle. You must follow all laws governing the road. It’s as simple as that.
Also, the lamp cannot flash and cannot be more than 3 inches in diameter. (That’s not very big!)
You also should find out from your city and department if you are covered
under their insurance when responding in your own vehicle. Also, check with your own auto insurer to see if you are covered. Some do cover you as long as you are responding “with due regard to the safety of others.” You have to obey all laws, and you have to do so “with due regard to the safety of others.”
If you are involved in a crash while responding to a call, and it is determined you were driving outside the parameters of the law, you could be involved in criminal litigation. Bottom line, you could get a ticket for breaking a driving law or worse if injury or death is involved.
If you are found to be driving without due regard to the safety of others, you have opened the door to civil litigation. If you step out of bounds from established department rules, you could be left out in the cold to fight a civil battle on your own.
Two bad things occur when a volunteer responding to a call gets into a crash. You have doubled the need for emergency response if there is injury involved, and you have removed yourself from the original call.
Remember, “You can’t give the care if you aren’t there!”
Sgt. Curt S. Mowers is a regional public information officer for the Minnesota State Patrol.