Code 3 101

By Demetrius A. Kastros

“You’re driving a bomb!”

That is what my dad used to tell me repeatedly when I first got my driver’s license. Regarding fire apparatus, it’s more accurate to say you are driving a 15-ton bomb; when moving, that 15 tons of energy can explode in an instant. Any time you drive a fire apparatus, with red lights flashing and a siren (Code 3) blaring, you must use an overabundance of caution and care.

A Code 3 operation for an emergency vehicle is intended to keep you from getting caught in slow-moving traffic. Vehicle codes require other drivers to yield the right-of-way to approaching Code 3 units by pulling over as close as possible to the right curb, thus allowing unobstructed passage for emergency units. Code 3 operation lets you keep moving through traffic but does NOT let you do so in an unsafe manner. Yes, you can travel through a red light or stop sign, but you should only do so after coming to a complete stop and recognize that the drivers in the cross-street and oncoming traffic lanes have seen you and have pulled over to the roadside and stopped.

Many factors affect driving a fire apparatus. Your department policies should reflect the conditions in your area such as during severe winters. No matter where you’re located, field of view, reaction times, and stopping distances are major factors in safe apparatus driving. The laws of physics are a powerful force when driving a 15-ton bomb. You need to understand those laws.


DEMETRIUS A. KASTROS is a 42-year fire service veteran and a semiretired shift battalion chief from the Milpitas (CA) Fire Department. In 1974, he was among the first group of firefighters in the State of California to be certified as an emergency medical Technician (EMT). Kastros has a college degree in fire science and is a state certified chief officer and master instructor. He continues to work in fire service-related activities. He is the lead instructor for the City of Monterey (CA) Community Emergency Response Team program. He has been published previously in digital editions of Fire Engineering.

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