In the province of Ontario, volunteer firefighters are permitted to equip their personal vehicles with flashing green lights, which are intended to send a message to other drivers on the road that they are on their way to an emergency.
It’s meant as a request to drivers that they should pull over or let the vehicle pass, to allow the volunteers to save potentially life-saving seconds arriving at their destination, which could be a fire, a traffic collision or a medical emergency.
It’s a courtesy request reserved for volunteer fire departments, not mandatory legislation, says NOTL deputy fire chief Jay Plato.
It doesn’t give volunteers any special privileges — they can’t speed or travel through red lights or stop signs, as their full-time paid counterparts in other municipalities do.
Although volunteer departments have spent decades reminding drivers of the meaning of the flashing green lights, there are always drivers who don’t recognize the reason for them, says Plato.
Some may be new residents, who have moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake from large urban areas with paid full-time firefighters, and others are visitors from the Toronto area or the big cities.
It can be frustrating for the firefighters, Plato says, although the lack of understanding has been an issue for so long they’ve learned to accept it.
This issue is not about the community not doing its part, he says. “The community as a whole embraces it and accepts it. This is about education and promotion, so more drivers are aware of the lights and what they represent. This is a tourism community, and people coming to town from large cities don’t understand volunteer fire departments. We know people would want to help if they understood what the lights mean.”
Last week the Region delivered about 20 new signs to NOTL, with reminders about flashing green lights. Some have already been installed on regional roads in town, and there will be a few more new ones on municipal roads, says Plato. Other signs are being moved to more visible locations, in an attempt to educate drivers about the meaning of flashing green lights, which were legislated in Ontario for use by volunteer departments in 1994.