Traffic vs First Responders: Every Minute Counts

Lights, sirens, all signs of first responders working to protect lives.

But when traffic doesn’t give them space, they lose precious time.

First responders fight through traffic to protect lives every day.

Every second lost can mean the difference between life and death.

9&10’s Cody Boyer shows you firsthand how emergency crews deal with drivers in tonight’s special report, Traffic vs. First Responders: Every Minute Counts.

"It happens everywhere. It doesn’t matter on what road you’re on."

Everyone needs to share the road.

"Police, fire, EMS…everybody," says Captain Brian Bloom.

But for first responders like Captain Brian Bloom at the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department, when they’re driving it’s often to an emergency.

When their lights and sirens are on, they depend on traffic to clear the way.

"When I went through school, I was always taught you have to pull to the right and stop. Anymore, people just kind of do whatever they feel at the moment," says Captain Bloom.

But where there are rules, there are some that will be broken.

"They’re either just stopping in the mid-lane, pulling off to the left and stopping on the shoulder. That leaves us nowhere to go," explains Captain Bloom.

For them, a driver who doesn’t follow the rules of the road could have a life or death impact.

"It’s getting to be worse and worse every year. I mean, it used to be like a couple of times a year you’d see and now it’s daily," says Captain Bloom.

To take a closer look at the problem, we gave Captain Bloom’s crew a camera for a month.

Their mission: watch for drivers that could slow them down.

And there were a lot of them.

Plenty of people do what they are supposed to do and pull over to a complete stop.

But Lieutenant Chris Comeaux sees drivers who don’t on almost every call.

That can cause dangerous situations.

"We’ve made it an objective to stay safe while driving to an emergency,” says Lt. Comeaux. "We have the challenge of people cutting us off or not pulling to the right."

It also slows them down.

Those extra seconds matter.

"Time is of the essence. If someone’s life is on the line and you don’t pull to the right," says Lt. Comeaux. "That could slow down the response to someone’s house by six minutes, and that could actually cause someone to lose their life."

"On every response that we go to, we’re constantly on a defense and watching for other people," says paramedic David Grattopp. "Something just out of the blue happens and all of a sudden it’s like bam, now we have a major issue."

Now response time, those are two very important words for firefighters or anyone working in EMS. When they are trying to get to a scene, they need all the time they can to respond to an accident or to a house fire, much like EMS. They need all the time they can get to save lives.

"It can be very challenging," says Grattopp.

David Grattopp is a paramedic with North Flight Grand Traverse.

He started driving an ambulance 34 years ago.

He says today’s technology can also play a part to both help, and hinder.

"They’re talking, hopefully not texting," explains David. "Listening to the radio, whatever. And also with the cars nowadays, the way they are being built, they are far more soundproof then the cars used to be. So it becomes more difficult for us, for people to not only see us sometimes but also to hear us."

"For something like a stroke, it can be all the difference in the world. At three hours, we don’t give thrombolytic any longer," says Dr. Robert Smith, MD, emergency physician at Munson Medical Center. "As far as heart attacks, time is heart muscle and when it comes to things like your heart not beating, every second counts."

Captain Bloom says following the law can help them protect us from being their next call, and make sharing the roads even safer.

"It helps us greatly and, you know, by the public helping us with that sometimes with the couple of extra seconds, we can get there to that patient. It does indeed make a difference between life and death," says Grattopp.