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Disregard for Fire Lane

McHenry County, Illinois Emergency Services Vehicles

Disregard for Fire Lane

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
April 15, 2007

An interesting situation exists at the Woodstock Recreation Center on Lake Avenue at Kimball Street. On a recent Friday afternoon I noticed that a fire truck and two ambulances were parked in the Fire Lane. Knowing the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District is not part of the City of Woodstock, I emailed Fire Chief Ralph Webster to alert him and to request that he ask the drivers to park the vehicles in regular parking spots or, at least, not in the Fire Lane unless they were on an emergency response at the Recreation Center.

There were, of course, several responses that I might have received, one being "Thanks for letting me know. I'll be sure that the drivers park legally there." And that's the one I received; right? NOT!

When I didn't hear back from Ralph, I emailed Police Chief Bob Lowen to ask him to enforce the Fire Lane parking law. I mentioned I hadn't heard from Ralph and he must have let Ralph know that I had contacted him, because Ralph took exception to my letting the Police Chief know that he hadn't replied. Ralph then wrote and said that he had replied, but his email to me had apparently not been delivered to me, and I should have known that. Guess I'd better practice up on my psychic skills...

Police Chief Lowen quoted a section of the traffic code in an email to me. "Authorized Emergency Vehicles can park there according to Section 625 ILCS 5/11-205c(1) of the Illinois Vehicle Code ."

Perhaps many people would let things drop there, but I had a strong suspicion that Authorized Emergency Vehicles are required to obey traffic laws, so I looked up 5/11-205c(1). It can be found online at www.illinois.gov, where you have to nose around quite a bit to find the Illinois Vehicle Code and then experiment to find the right section.

Sure enough, Authorized Emergency Vehicles can park "there" (in a designated Fire Lane), BUT subject to certain conditions, none of which happen to be met by the WFRD vehicles. When you read this Section of the Illinois Vehicle Code carefully - - well, read it for yourself... Make up your own mind. To save your time, I have excerpted portions of the Section without changing the meaning:

The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle, when responding to an emergency call or when in the pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm, may exercise the privileges set forth in this Section, but subject to the conditions herein stated.
(c) The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may:
1. Park or stand, irrespective of the provisions of this Chapter;
2. Proceed past a red or stop signal or stop sign, but only after slowing down as may be required and necessary for safe operation;
3. Exceed the maximum speed limits so long as he does not endanger life or property;
4. Disregard regulations governing direction of movement or turning in specified directions.
(d) The exceptions herein granted to an authorized emergency vehicle, other than a police vehicle, shall apply only when the vehicle is making use of either an audible signal when in motion or visual signals meeting the requirements of Section 12-215 of this Act.

So the questions are -
Q. Are the WFRD vehicles at the Recreation Center on an emergency call?
A. No, the firemen and paramedics are working out as part of the P.E. requirement of the WFRD.
Q. Are "visual signals" (emergency lights) in use?
A. No, and they cannot be legally used except during emergency response.
Q. Is it "training"? Are the firefighters learning how to lay hose faster, swing axes, put out fires?
A. No, there is a lot of hoop-de-lah in the news about firefighters keeling over from heart attacks while fighting fires, so Ralph lets them work out while on-duty.

But the last question is a side issue and has nothing to do with whether the fire trucks are illegally parked.

When my efforts to get the police department to enforce the parking law failed, I contacted City Manager Tim Clifton and asked him to get a legal opinion from the City Attorney. On April 2 Tim wrote, "The Chief’s interpretation is sufficient. Furthermore, the safety of the building and its inhabitants are not diminished but enhanced with the fire apparatus and personnel on site."

Interesting... it's okay to violate the law if safety is enhanced. So then I contacted Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager and asked him to obtain a legal opinion from the City Attorney. Mayor Sager expressed "absolute trust and confidence in the ability of the City's professional staff and said he would not support getting a legal opinion.

On April 13 at 3:10PM there were two fire engines and two ambulances in the Fire Lane, and I called Woodstock PD to ask for an officer to come to the Recreation Center and observe the violation. I did not want just any officer, because a regular patrol officer would end up in a really sticky spot if he read the traffic law and realized a violation existed, so I asked to speak with the shift sergeant. The shift sergeant refused to come to the Recreation Center to document that the WFRD equipment was illegally parked in the Fire Lane.

I'm having a really hard time trying to figure out just what the problem is. Is the problem that Fire Chief Ralph Webster is also City Councilman Ralph Webster? Is the problem that Police Chief Lowen and Fire Chief Webster are not really peers, but Ralph is, in effect, one of the Chief's bosses by virtue of his position on the City Council? I have known Chief Lowen for a year through the Coffees with the Chief and other matters, and I believe him to be a man of integrity and honesty. But let's face it. Is he willing to fall on his sword over a battle with Ralph? Or is the problem that the score right now between the City Attorney's office and me is Gus 2, City Attorney's office 0?

There is a very simple solution. A correct legal opinion from the City Attorney's office will keep Chief Lowen and the officers of the Woodstock Police Department out of the middle. The law is crystal clear. WFRD fire trucks and ambulances are parking illegally in the Fire Lane.

Why do I use the word "correct" legal opinion? This will be addressed in other postings.

The proper course of action for the Fire Chief is to tell his drivers to park legally, especially because of his position as a City Councilman. Every appearance of favoritism should be avoided. Shouldn't it?

What do you think?

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