CLEARWATER — When Karen Kuechler pulled her 2003 Saturn out in front of Clearwater Fire Assistant Chief Danny Jones last month, the 23-year veteran tried to avoid the crash.
Jones' vehicle slammed into the Saturn, sending both him and Kuechler, 73, to the hospital with minor injuries.
Kuechler failed to yield to an emergency vehicle, officials determined, and cited the driver.
Cases like this are increasingly worrisome to Clearwater emergency responders who are promoting an educational campaign this week in hopes of reducing the number of accidents.
With six accidents between Clearwater responding emergency vehicles and drivers already this year, authorities hope drivers will become more aware of emergency responders.
Between talking on cell phones and tuning radios, drivers often seemed distracted when confronted with emergency vehicles, Clearwater firefighters said.
Distractions are dangerous, they say, and put both the driver and responders at risk.
"It seems like everyone is in a hurry," Assistant Chief Doug Swartz said while working at Clearwater's Station 45 on Tuesday.
Driver distractions are serious business for Clearwater medical responders, police officers and firefighters like Swartz.
It's about giving those responders the right of way, said Assistant Chief Marvin Pettingill, as he drove to one of the morning's first calls — a man having a panic attack.
Earlier Tuesday, units responded to a man apparently knocked off his bicycle by a car on N Betty Lane.
Pettingill slowed and approached an intersection, while lights flashed atop his truck. Drivers should be defensive, he said.
Responders undergo emergency vehicle driver training, Pettingill said. They need to drive responsibly, while citizens should yield the right of way.
"It could be their loved one who's in an accident," Pettingill said.
Brian Spegele can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4154