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CODE 3 Response


Driving and Code 3 Response

Introduction

On most SAR missions an expedient response but not an emergency response is warranted.  Most cases where backcountry travel will be required, does not warrant an emergency response.  In cases where an emergency response may help the success of an operation such as a known technical rescues where the team is absolutely needed or a moving water rescue where time is critical to the success of the mission and the life of the subject, the team may be dispatched to the scene using emergency "Code 3" driving.  Above all the safety of the responding team and the general public must be protected.

 After team probational training, each member of the team receives a county approved, Code 3 training course certified by the academy for emergency Search and Rescue application (Non-pursuit driving).  Each year through continuing team trainings and the yearly recertification, the team member renews his certification to operate a county vehicle using Code 3 guidelines.

It is paramount to understand and practice the guidelines established in this class and in the county approved training sessions.  A person and the corresponding agency is held responsible for understanding and adhering to the guidelines that are established. 

The following topics are discussed below:

Components of Defensive Driving

High-Risk Driving Maneuvers

Advantages of Using Safety Belts

Factors Which Affect Stopping Distance

Effect of speed on a Turning Vehicle

Relationship between MPH and Distance Traveled

Emergency Driving Policies

Limitations of Emergency Warning Devices

Emergency Driving:  Exempt from Vehicle Code

Factors Affecting Liability Under Code 3

Police Escorts

Pre-Shift Vehicle Inspection

All Wheel Braking Skid      

This section contains some highlights in regards to proper operation of County Vehicles in a defined emergency response.  Members must be certified through the county academy to operate the SAR or any other county emergency vehicle in a code 3 response.  Operation of an emergency vehicle should be transferred to a certified operator if required.  In no case should a non-certified driver accept a code response dispatch.    

Components of Defensive Driving  

There are several factors which effectively impact one's ability to drive defensively.  First a driver's attitude has a great bearing on his ability to operate a motor vehicle.  Such factors as overconfidence, self-righteousness, impatience, and preoccupation can all negatively effect one's performance.  The driver's psychomotor skills, understanding of physical dynamics, and experience greatly influence the one's ability to drive defensively.  

Other factors which may detract from one's ability to drive defensively are: decreased visual efficiency due to fatigue or illness, prolonged perception time, increased decision / reaction time due to external influence or one's ability to manage physiological and psychological stresses.

 There are some factors over which the driver may have control.  The condition and capability of the vehicle being driven is very important.  Frequent inspections of equipment may help to identify a faulty element prior to its failure during an emergency call.  There are unique characteristics in all vehicles.  One's familiarity with the particular vehicle and practice in it's operation is required for safe defensive driving.  Weather itself, such as snow, rain, ice, or black ice play an important role in the ability to negotiate hazardous conditions.  Last but not least is the ability to adjust to the unexpected elements that appear on the roadway such as pedestrians, animals, or jets.  

High-Risk Driving Maneuvers  

There are several factors that are common when considering what causes a collision.  One of the most common causes is unsafe speed for the conditions that are present.  Another is the violation of another's right of way.  Right of way incidents typically originate in merging traffic, during turns, while backing a vehicle, or while one vehicle is parking or pulling to the side.  The accidents which are most difficult to identify fault are those that are caused by distractions or driver inattention. 

Advantages of Using Safety Belts  

Simply stated, if one wishes to live through a traffic collision then he should use a seat belt.  The seat belt is the simplest and most effective protection against major injury or death in a collision.  The seat belt when properly utilized lessens the consequences of human collision and internal organ collision.  In addition to limiting the occupant from striking injury, the seat belt provides a "Ride Down" effect which increase the time in which the deceleration occurs (reducing the apparent force).  The seat belt also helps to maintain the driver behind the steering wheel which helps in maintaining (or regaining) control of the vehicle during a collision.  A sheriff personal one must wear the seat belt to comply with the law and agency policy.  Wearing the seat belt also provides a good example for others to do the same.  Not wearing a seat belt would promote the opposite.  

Air bags are a topic of discussion now a days.  Under certain conditions, air bags can reduce injury or death.  Air bags are not ever to be considered a substitute for seatbelts.  Air bags are only effective in frontal crashes.

 Factors Which Affect Stopping Distance

 There are many factors that effect the stopping distance of a vehicle.  A primary factor is the driver of the vehicle.  Such things as perception time, decision time, and reaction time effect the stopping distance in either a positive or a negative way.  Another factor is the preoccupation of the driver.  The driver's mental condition or fatigue can delay his reactions.  Vehicle maintenance, the type of tires, the type of braking system, and the quality of the brakes directly effect the ability of the vehicle to be stopped.  Under certain conditions an ABS system can stop a vehicle faster than a non-ABS system and vice versa.  Road and weather conditions greatly effect the stopping distance required to stop a vehicle.  Any substance on the road that would effect the coefficient of friction of the tire against the road will increase the stopping distance.  A rough surface will help slow a vehicle faster than a smooth surface.  The final factor is the speed which the vehicle is traveling before the stop was required.  

Effect of speed on a Turning Vehicle  

 The turning radius of the vehicle as speed increase and diminishes as speed decreases.  Of major concern is the traction limits of the tires when the apparent acceleration is normal (lateral) to the turning direction.  A weight transfer occur in the opposite direction to the direction the vehicle is turning.  The weight transfer increases as the speed increases.

 Relationship between MPH and Distance Traveled  

One should be aware of the time traveled during the different phases of reaction.  If 0.75 second occurs for perception, decision, and reaction, then 2.25 seconds occurs prior to the application of a brake (or initiation of other evasive maneuvers).  At 55 MPH 181 ft are traveled prior response activation.  At 80 MPH the reaction distance increases to 264 ft (which is pretty close to the length of a football field).

 Emergency Driving Policies

 Rule number 1, is "When available there should be a supervisory controller of all Code 3 operation."  The supervisor could be in the operation or could be the watch commander.  Prior to the operation, when more than one vehicle is involved, the primary unit must be established, identified, and designated such with dispatch.  If the number of vehicles in the operation changes at any time, all drivers and the supervisor must be informed.  

If the operation enters another division or jurisdiction, the controlling agency must be advised.  The best way is to request dispatch or the watch commander to advise the proper agencies.  If possible when advance travel is known, it is best to advise the applicable jurisdiction of the planned route in advance.  A secondary notification should be made when the jurisdiction is actually entered.  If no other communication scheme is available the operations leader may be able to communicate with local law enforcement through the CLEMARS radio frequency.  

One of the primary responsibilities of the operations leader which is also shared by each vehicle operator, is to determine when to terminate the code 3 response.  Termination of Code (prior to arrival) is usually based on the interest of public or officer safety.  There are times and conditions when it is easier and safer just to drive to a location without light and siren.  For example in heavy fog the overhead light limits the drivers ability to see.  Perhaps during ice and snow one does not want people attempting to pull off the road.  The team could spend the entire trip rescuing people on the way to the assigned rescue.  

California Vehicle Code, CVC, requires the use of a forward red light and a siren when responding code 3 to an emergency call.  There are very few cases that the siren would not be applicable to a Search and Rescue Code 3 response.  The allowance to squelch the siren was made in the interest of officer safety when a "Silent" approach is required.  An example when it might be prudent to squelch the siren during a SAR Code response would be driving the freeway at 3 AM or on Highway 33, 15 miles north of Ojai.  In these situation the manual selector of the Unitrol would be applicable so the siren could be activated by the driver (horn button) when other vehicles are observed or blind intersections are being approached.

Limitations of Emergency Warning Devices 

There are certain limitations of the lighting equipment on the SAR vehicles of which all should be aware.  During daylight hours, the traditional red and blue lights are harder to see and should always be augmented by the vehicle headlamps.  Use the normal (not high beams) headlamps as the high beams have a tendency to diminish the effect of the overhead lights.  The team blazer is equipped with forward "wigwags" which are much more effective than steady burning headlamps.  The height of the SAR vehicles also reduces their visibility especially in the lower compact model vehicles.  Studies have shown than the regular headlamps are often seen prior to the overhead lamps.  This is attributed to the typical driver is looking for lights at ground level rather than at roof level.  

The team member should be aware that high speed reduces the affectivity of the siren as a warning device.  The faster one is traveling the less effect the siren becomes.  Typically at 55 MPH most vehicles being overtaken will not identify the siren until the Code vehicle is passing them.  Also one must be aware of the physical constraints of the SAR vehicles.  For Example the utility bed of 3800 almost completely obscures the rear view of the roof lights at close range.  For this reason additional amber flashers have been placed high on the rear of 3800.  These ambers should be engaged whenever responding code.  The length of the team suburban has the same effect however to a lesser degree.  In addition one should be aware of external physical barriers that may impair the effectivity of the siren such as blind intersections, buildings, dense forrest or hills (continuing through an endless list of possibilities).

 Emergency Driving:  Exemptions from Vehicle Code

 There are four primary vehicle sections dealing with Code 3 responses.  Two of the sections are addressed to the operator of the vehicle and the other with the other traffic on the highway.  The responding SAR unit must be authorized (directed by dispatch) and be responding to an emergency call involving rescue where undue harm or death may result from a non-emergency response of the unit.  The SAR unit may also be dispatched for special reasons such as a fire response if the watch commander determines the necessity.  The Ambulance Driver's Handbook from the CHP lists the vehicle code sections that are exempted during code response.  Of key importance is section 21056, which state that the above exemptions does not relieve the driver of the response vehicle of safe operation and due regard for all others using the road.  The lights and siren are a request for others to yield; never assume other vehicles have observed the lights and will execute the correct or expected reaction.  When returning from a code call, as with any other time, the SAR vehicle must comply with all rules of the road.

Factors Affecting Liability Under Code 3

An officer or team member may be civilly liable if a problem arises during an unauthorized code response.  Team and S/O agency policy does not allow a SAR member to self initiate a Code response.  Section 17004 state that an officer may be criminally liable if he does not drive with due regard for the safety of others.  A law enforcement agency may be civilly liable for death, injury, or property damage caused by a county operator who negligently or wrongfully operates a motor vehicle as described in vehicle code section 17001.  Although only applicable to pursuit driving (not applicable to SAR members) a law enforcement agency could be liable for death or injury caused by a pursuit subject unless a pursuit procedure is in force in accordance with CVC 17004.

Police Escorts

At times during disasters, major fires, or floods, a caravan of emergency vehicles may travel together.  In this case the same safety regulations and regards for other vehicles is required.  Never assume that all other vehicles see the caravan.  One should apply the same precautions used elsewhere.

Pre-Shift Vehicle Inspection

 On each activation of the team vehicles a standard check list is activated.  This should include a mechanical check of the vehicle including the engine bay for worn parts.  Tires should be checked for pressure, flaws, cracks or cuts.  Fluid checks should be made as well as a check of the ground under the vehicle to note any apparent leakage.  All lights should be checked and the Unitrol should be activated.  The manual switch should be selected on the unitrol.  With the unitrol selector set to full code the horn switch should be tested to properly activate the siren.  The PA system should be verified.  The unitrol should be left in the manual position.

 Gear stored in the vehicles should be secured in a safe fashion.  This is particularly important in the suburban where the gear is directly aft of and exposed to the passenger seats.  Brakes should be tested several times before leaving the station as well as the turning response to the driver's command.  Since team members do operate the SAR units every day, some time is needed to reacquaint oneself with the individual vehicle.

All Wheel Braking Skid

 In most team code responses, the team is mainly attempting to save time by moving traffic to the side to allow the vehicle to proceed at a safe pace.  In a water rescue the environment will restrict the travel to a slower than normal pace.  However the fact that the trucks are not waiting several layers back in jammed work traffic allows a quicker and safer response.


During the team practical trainings skids and spins are induced to prepare the team member for unusual circumstances.  In most cases the speed is to great for the attempted maneuver.  The best response is usually to let up on the brake and steer in the direction of the sliding rear of the vehicle.  A collision occurs when there is insufficient distance or time for the driver to regain control of the sliding vehicle.  Remember if the vehicle is skidding or sliding, this is an indication that the normal steering mechanism of the vehicle (friction of front wheels on the pavement) is no longer functioning

 

  
Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue  |  Fillmore Mountain Rescue  |  Team 1
Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 296 |  Fillmore, CA  93016
 
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2005 Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue, Fillmore Mountain Rescue, Team 1

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