After firefighters' safety and equipment was jeopardized during a recent house fire, officials voiced concern with The Brazil Times.
"It's really gotten out of hand in the past year," Brazil City Fire Department Chief Jim Smith said about incidents he has witnessed at fire scenes. "If something doesn't change, I'm afraid someone is going to get killed."
Instead of focusing on fighting fires, working to help accident victims or trying to block flooded roads for safety reasons during the recent flooding, Smith said firefighters have found themselves dodging vehicles to get out of the way of impatient motorists or stopping what they were dispatched to do to protect the equipment.
"You run over a hose, the water shuts off immediately," Smith said. "We know when it happens. Until the pressure is removed from the hose, we lose the water, which takes away precious seconds."
If the hose is ruptured, an extreme situation has the potential to only get worse. Running over a fire hose, according to Smith, isn't like running over a garden hose.
"That risks lives," Smith said about the loss of water during a structure fire. "If that happened, a person could possibly be held responsible in civil court for the damages if the house fire couldn't be put out because of the hose being destroyed. The civil ramifications of doing something like that are potentially disastrous, something you would have to deal with the rest of your life."
It's a frustrating situation for Smith.
"People just don't think about the 'what ifs.'" Smith said. "What if that were my house they were trying to save, or what if the firefighter was a family member now put in danger by an impatient person who couldn't wait or be responsible about detouring around the scene."
Smith said the equipment is more expensive then people think, with a fire truck costing more than $250,000 and special fire hoses starting at $300 per 50-foot section.
"People just don't seem to respect a fire truck with its lights flashing anymore," Smith said. "We try really hard to not block roadways or inconvenience traffic, but we have got to have room to work in."
On May 11, Smith said things "got out of hand" while the fire department was working a house fire at 208 Sycamore Street. He estimates approximately 20 motorists -- whether "rubber neckers or impatient drivers" -- put emergency personnel in danger.
"While officers from the Brazil City Police Department were there to work traffic, things were OK," Smith said. "But when they were dispatched to another call, things just got nuts. Just because you don't see smoke and flames, doesn't necessarily mean the emergency is over."
Apparently, without police officers on the scene, some impatient motorists took it upon themselves to ignore the emergency situation and drove through neighboring yards, including the one at St. Vincent Clay Hospital, to get around fire trucks with emergency lights flashing. Firefighters had to move the hoses to protect them from being run over.
"One firefighter was almost hit as he stepped off the truck," Smith said. "That's my greatest fear, that one of my guys will be hit by someone not paying attention."
It's not the first time the department has had problems with motorists.
"During the recent floods, we tried to block off high-water areas," Smith said. "There were times when motorists just looked at us, at the fire truck with its lights on and then at the water, before driving into it anyway. Then, of all things, they got angry when we wouldn't jeopardize damaging our equipment to pull them out."
Smith said this type of rude behavior is not just happening in Brazil.
"All fire departments, and really all types of emergency responders, are dealing with this behavior," Smith said. "When we are dispatched, it's a rapid deployment situation."
Emergency responders are focused on the task at hand, putting out a fire or working with an accident situation.
Brazil City Police Chief Larry Pierce agreed.
"People behaving like this, well they're just making a dangerous situation even worse," Pierce said. "It's bad enough firefighters have to worry about going into a burning building, they shouldn't have to worry about something like this. They should have, and deserve, an expectation of safety while doing their jobs."
According to Pierce, if caught, motorists violating the scene of an "emergency incident" or interfering with a "dispatched firefighter" while in the course of his duty could face potential jail time and fines.
Indiana Code 35-44-4-5 defines a person who is not a firefighter who knowingly or intentionally refuses to leave an emergency incident area immediately after being requested to do so by a firefighter or law enforcement officer commits a Class A misdemeanor,.
IC 35-44-4-8 defines a person who knowingly or intentionally obstructs or interferes with a firefighter performing or attempting to perform the firefighter's emergency functions or duties as a firefighter commits Obstructing a Firefighter, a Class A misdemeanor.
A conviction or guilty plea of a Class A misdemeanor is potentially punishable with up to one year in jail and $5,000 in fines.
According to the type of damages done by motorists choosing to drive "off road" to get around the scene, or if causing damage to fire equipment, officials could also charge trespassing, criminal mischief or other miscellaneous charges.
If a motorist should cause injury to a firefighter or someone else, the charges could develop into felonies.
"A person might think they've gotten away with doing something like this," Pierce said, "but if the vehicle can be identified by license plate or other means of evidence, an officer could locate the driver later."
Officials hope to bring about public awareness to the growing problem.
"I don't know if getting this information out to the public is going to do any good. People are just in a big hurry anymore," Smith said. "I would just like to ask everyone to please slow down and respect emergency personnel, whether their on the way to an emergency or already on the scene. Remember, the emergency they are responding to may involve your property or loved ones."