Emergency vehicles in school zones – Botetourt County and Virginia
On March 9, 2020, I suffered a stroke and needed EMS to transport me from my house to Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
An issue arose during the transportation through the Lord Botetourt High School controlled zone. We had to cross that controlled zone during the time of school being released. For some reason unknown to me at the time, when we entered that zone, the ambulance stopped and turned off the siren. We waited with the other vehicles in the traffic lanes as buses were released from the school parking lot heading north and south onto Route 220.
I was in the back of that ambulance and we waited for approximately three to five minutes, until the bus release time was completed. After the siren was turned back on, we proceeded to drive south on Route 220 towards I-81 to the hospital making our way around all the buses and other traffic that had just been released onto the same road going in the same direction.
My first request for a public hearing on this matter was denied. In my second effort, I met with Botetourt County Administrator Gary Larrowe, two members of the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Steve Clinton and Dr. Richard Baily, and Fire Chief Jason Ferguson; but the result also left me dissatisfied. At a third closed meeting, the four people mentioned above were also present as well as Dr. Carol Bernier, an Emergency Room physician. I learned that the rules that guide EMS in the school-controlled zone are only established locally by the Fire Chief and the Botetourt County Administrator.
However, the Virginia law states that emergency vehicles are allowed to disregard any type of traffic control when they are transporting a patient. And the stroke, which was my case, is an exception as stated in law 46.2-920 (https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title46.2/chapter8/section46.2-920/) which states in paragraph 4, “any emergency medical services vehicle designed or used for the principal purpose of providing emergency medical services where human life in endangered.”
In the EMS incident report written about this transportation trip, the stop that the ambulance made around the school was omitted. Nowhere in the report was there a note that the ambulance had made a stop during this specific run.
When the Fire Chief was asked why the ambulance had turned off its siren and stopped with all the other traffic, a rationale was offered that is not consistent with the cited state law above which allows emergency vehicles to disregard any type of traffic control when transporting a patient.
When this case was studied, Dr. Bernier, who had never seen me before, stated that my condition was not critical in getting me to the hospital any faster, and it had taken us almost an hour that day.
It is important to note that the Commissioners only judged the case. They chose to ignore the urgent need of care that may exist in some cases and the responsibility of the EMS to deliver the patient to the hospital as fast as possible.
Placing the responsibility for safe passage solely on the emergency vehicle driver may be more liability-driven rather than based on best patient care. In this specific case, only scans administered at a hospital could determine the critical nature of the stroke and treatment plan.
The lack of using the tools available to the EMS drivers that have the ability to use the siren and air horn, which at the time was not used to indicate the potential urgency of the patient to alert the two vehicles in front of the ambulance to clear out of the way.
I have observed almost all the regulations regarding the emergency vehicles, and there are many. And granted the operators of these vehicles have a large responsibility to their patient as well as to other pedestrians and automobiles they encounter. But it is clear in these regulations that by having the flashing lights, siren, and air horn, which has a very high, distinctive noise to allow traffic to disperse to get out of the way of emergency vehicles in Botetourt County.
Clearly, the EMS personnel and the Lord Botetourt High School staff releasing and controlling traffic onto Route 220 need to have a clear set of guidelines of the Virginia State law. Keeping everything in accordance with STATE LAW is the responsibility of all involved.
I have requested this opinion to be published at this time to inform the citizens of Botetourt County about the practices that take place without your knowledge.