Green Lights - What Do They Mean?

All drivers in Ontario are familiar with the emergency red flashing lights and sirens on police cars, ambulances and fire trucks, and know that they are required by law to pull to the right and stop when they see or hear them coming. But not everyone is aware of the Volunteer Firefighter's Green Flashing Light.

In a large city, emergency vehicles are manned by full-time personnel, who use the red lights and sirens to get through traffic to the scene of an emergency in a hurry. Seconds count in a fire or rescue situation, and time lost from traffic congestion can make a difference. For those of us in rural and smaller urban areas, we receive our fire protection from volunteers, who often respond to emergencies in their own private vehicles. These vehicles are not equipped with red lights or sirens that make them stand out from any other vehicle on the road.

When the call for help comes in, our personnel may be at their regular job, at the beach with the family or sleeping in the middle of the night. They drop what they are doing and immediately respond to the fire hall to drive the fire trucks to the emergency scene. Once the trucks have responded, firefighters and first responders that did not make it to the hall will continue to the emergency in their personal vehicle.

The Green Light gives the firefighters no special privileges when responding to an emergency. It is used only as an identifier to the drivers of other vehicles so that they may give up their right-of-way and allow the firefighter to get to the emergency unimpeded. The use of the light is controlled by the Fire Chief, who has the authority to allow or terminate the firefighter's use of the light.

The problem previously existed that regular traffic did not know that an emergency exists and unknowingly held up firefighters hurrying to the call or to the hall to get the fire trucks on the way. To help the public identify these firefighters responding in their own vehicles, the Ministry of Transportation amended the Highway Traffic Act to allow volunteer firefighters responding to emergencies to use a light that flashed green.

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act states: 62.(16) A firefighter, within the meaning of subsection 1 (1) of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, may carry on or in his or her vehicle a lamp that produces intermittent flashes of green light and may operate the light if the motor vehicle is proceeding to a fire or other emergency. 1997, c. 4, s. 81. Likewise, the Act has this to say about others using the Green Light: 62. (16.1) No person other than a person described in subsection (16) shall operate a lamp that produces intermittent flashes of green light. 1994, c. 35, s. 1.

If you see a vehicle with the tell-tale flashing green light activated, you now know it's one of us, on our way to help one of our neighbours. Remember, the home we're rushing to save or life we're going to rescue could be yours, or that of a close friend's. Please let us by!