Emergency workers using personal vehicles
Question: I am a volunteer fireman, and I have friends who are with Emergency Medical Service. 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. Thanks!
Answer: 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, upon obtaining a permit from the commissioner of public safety, any motor vehicles operated by an active member of a volunteer fire department that is authorized by or contracting with any city, town or township in Minnesota may be equipped with a lamp emitting a red light to the front of such a vehicle.
The lens should not be more than three inches in diameter. Additionally, lamps should be lit only when the member of the volunteer fire department is responding to an emergency call in connection with duties as a volunteer firefighter. The public safety commissioner is hereby authorized to issue application permits on applications of volunteer fire department members properly certified by their chief. So you can get a permit if your fire chief/EMS supervisor and department authorizes it, but you cannot simply apply on your own. When 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 is not considered to be operating an emergency vehicle. Also, the lamp cannot flash and cannot be more than three inches in diameter.
You should find out from your city and department if you are covered under their insurance. Also, check with your own auto insurer to see if you are covered.
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 civil litigation door. 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 now doubled the need for emergency response if there is injury involved and you have removed yourself from the original call.
For additional questions concerning traffic related laws in Minnesota, please send your questions to Grabow at 1000 Highway 10 W. in Detroit Lakes or email firstname.lastname@example.org.