In four lanes of one-way traffic on Vernon Avenue in Saanich, a pair of headlights bear down on morning commuters. With red and white flashing lights and the backwards ‘ambulance’ facing us, traffic parts in synchrony – as it should.
It was an unusual, unexpected situation. Perhaps that’s why there was no bickering over lanes, or racing to get ahead of one more vehicle before pulling over. It was an eye-opener on our way to work.
My ears always perk up when I hear sirens, not because I’m a reporter, but because I’m human. I’ve been in those ambulances, fortunately only twice. I’ve seen my parents hauled away in one, bleeding and broken after a major crash on the Hope-Princeton Highway.
That ambulance could be racing to save someone’s mom, brother, baby or maybe my friend.
Regular readers of this column may remember my tale of Herbie – the liver. Herbie made the move, via transplant, to my friend – let’s call her Daisy – in 1994 and recently he’s been behaving a bit like a teenager, likely leading the revolt raging through Daisy. She takes it on the chin, but with a smile. In the last few weeks she’s had to take a ride with the medics three times to what that household refers to as Chateau Jubilee.
Though she’s loath to call them (it’s always the sickest who don’t want to call the ambulance), Daisy reports that the paramedics arrive quickly (at times along with the Saanich Fire Department first responders) and are efficient while still jovial (humour is almost a rule with Daisy). Daisy’s daughter is a friend of mine, and a teammate.
Carpooling home from Port Alberni with the hockey team last weekend, each of us noticed the two cars, with red and blue flashing lights, as they rushed through the intersection ahead of us and turned down the highway we were travelling. As one we groaned ‘oh no,’ knowing that would likely mean a crash ahead. A few corners later we came upon the scene. As one pair of eyes remained on the road (the driver slowing to a safe speed) the other five searched out the vehicles in the crash for telltale signs of teammate vehicles – the only conceivable situation where we might be able to help.
Finding none, no one complained for the rest of the long, late-night ride home.
We often think of our emergency personnel when the worst happens, like slowing past a crash moments after it happened. In last week’s snow, officers and tow truck drivers on the Peninsula were constantly clearing cars from the havoc of Highway 17, amid dangerous road conditions.
On Monday, Victoria’s resources were stretched – and mutual aid agreements brought into play – as they battled fires, one officer suffered a knife attack and others were called out to a stand-off.
Concerning ourselves about the policing system and how it works is important, but too often when on the highway, that concern goes out the window. I prefer to think the majority use the caution our carpool driver did, but there are those who don’t appear to care.
Since the summer of 2009, it’s been the law that when you see an emergency vehicle with lights flashing, you must slow to 70 km/h where the speed limit is 80 km/h or faster, and 40 km/h where it’s less than 80. We’re obligated, when it’s safe, to move to the other lane or face fines.
It shouldn’t take tickets to enforce common sense. Those working crash scenes are someone’s mom, brother, baby or friend, too.
And if those red and white lights and ‘ambulance’ sign are bearing down on you, pull over. Because if I’m in the back, with my knee facing the wrong way from a wayward hockey hit, I will come and find you once the painkillers wear off.
Christine van Reeuwyk is a reporter for the Peninsula News Review.