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VANCOUVER—It was one of hundreds of split-second decisions Vancouver firefighters make every day.
Jonathan Gormick saw a bus driver assisting an injured crow on a busy street, and decided to turn on his fire truck’s sirens to stop traffic and help.
Within seconds, a man drove by, honking, yelling and gesturing toward the fire truck.
Gormick, the fire department’s public information officer, made another split-second decision. He logged into Vancouver Fire and Rescue’s Twitter account, typed a snarky tweet, and hit send.
“To the gentleman who honked yelled, and gestured at one of our units that stopped traffic for 15 seconds this afternoon to assist a Translink driver get an injured animal off the road,” he wrote.
“Please come by any firehall where our professionals can assess if you’re human and have a heart.”
Gormick told StarMetro he immediately regretted the decision. But that was Tuesday, and by Wednesday more than 1,000 people had retweeted it.
“It was a sense of frustration. And I generally try not to tweet out of emotion, but this is a situation we encounter all too often,” Gormick said.
He estimated firefighters encounter that level of disrespect toward emergency personnel once a week.
Sometimes people drive through fire-line tape, sometimes they move traffic cones, sometimes they drive over firehoses. Sometimes they do all of the above.
Gormick recalled one particularly dangerous incident a little over a month ago, when crews were fighting a three-alarm blaze that had engulfed a print shop in East Vancouver.
More than a dozen fire trucks were called to the scene as toxic plumes of black smoke rose from the nighttime blaze. Then, the water from one of the hoses stopped.
Someone had driven past the yellow fire tape and over a hose, tearing it open and interrupting the water supply.
“It was extremely dangerous,” he said, adding that luckily, the incident did not delay a rescue since there was no one inside the print shop.
In another instance, last week, a driver went so far as to get out of a car and move traffic cones out of the way, he said.
“The cones are not for decoration,” Gormick said.
The city’s fire department does not officially track these kinds of incidents. The vast majority of people are very respectful of emergency vehicles and give them a wide berth, pulling over when they hear sirens, said Gormick, who has been with the force for 15 years.
But as Vancouver’s population increases and traffic congestion worsens, he worries more people will be agitated on the road and more inclined to act inappropriately toward ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks.
He asked Vancouverites to slow down and give emergency vehicles the right of way when they stop traffic.
“Have a bit of patience, and recognize the only reason we’re doing it is for safety. It’s not to impose some kind of inconvenience on drivers,” he said.
“It could be somebody’s son or daughter, or somebody’s mother or father who is on the other side of the fire truck.”