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Bill aims to protect emergency workers

February 05, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

When you see an ambulance in your rearview mirror, the law says you must pull over.

But what happens when you come upon an emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road?

A bill sponsored by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, would require drivers to either change lanes or slow down to protect the safety of emergency personnel.

To drive home the point, Washington County Director of Emergency Services Joseph Kroboth III told a Senate panel Tuesday about the death of his father while directing traffic at the scene of a car accident.

It was nearly five years ago that Joseph Kroboth Jr., 59, stepped into the fast lane of northbound Interstate 81 into the path of a pickup truck.

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Kroboth told the Judicial Proceedings Committee that when he arrived that night, he saw his father's boots, flashlight and reflective vest on the ground. His father had been knocked 50 feet.

"It's very difficult to deal with and accept the loss of a firefighter. It's hundreds of times more difficult when that firefighter is your father," Kroboth told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Kroboth said his mother died within two days of the two-year anniversary of her husband's death from heart problems caused by the anxiety.

Since his father's death, Kroboth has worked to prevent future accidents.

Firefighters, police and transportation officials from across the country held a summit at Halfway Fire Department to explore the problem, he said.

Experts suggested training, operational changes, public education and legislation to combat the problem.

Kroboth approached Munson, who agreed to sponsor the legislation, which is already on the books in other states.

Under the proposed law, a driver who sees an emergency vehicle, its lights flashing, on the side of the road would be required to move to the far lane of traffic.

On a single-lane road, the driver would be required to slow down to 20 mph less than the speed limit. If the speed limit is 20 mph or less, the driver would have to slow to 5 mph.

The penalty for not obeying the law would be a fine of up to $500.

Police officers are also at risk, according to the Maryland Troopers Association, which says highway deaths account for 16 percent of officers killed in the line of duty.

"We're out there on these interstates. The speeds are creeping up and we need some protection," said Nick Paros, president of the Maryland Troopers Association. "It's very simple, you see an emergency vehicle, move over."

No one testified against the bill.

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