Firefighter Must Answer for Running a Red Light

     (CN) – Immunity cannot shield a volunteer firefighter who drove through a red light and hit another car while responding to an emergency call, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled.
     Although public officer immunity would normally shield Parnell Burditt for acting within the scope of his employment with the Okauchee Fire Department, the state Supreme Court concluded that Burditt is not entitled to that immunity “because his acts in proceeding through the red stop signal without an audible signal violated a clear ministerial duty.”
     “He therefore falls within the exception to public officer immunity,” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote for the unanimous court. “He is not shielded by immunity.”
     It had been a “dark and rainy evening” in June 2008 when Burditt was driving his truck to the fire station, responding to an emergency call.
     The lieutenant volunteer firefighter reached an intersection with a four-lane divided highway. Though Burditt had activated the three flashing lights on his truck, but he had not turned on the audible signal.
     Burditt stopped his truck at the middle of the median and waited for a car to pull over to the side of the road. He then proceeded across the rest of the lanes, but a third vehicle that had been behind the other car crashed into his truck.
     “Burditt later acknowledged that he had no authority to proceed against the red stop signal, calling it a ‘poor decision,'” Bradley wrote.
     The car’s passengers, Marilyn Brown and Delores Schwartz, sued for negligence, but a county judge found that Burditt and the fire department deserved summary judgment since based on immunity, and the Court of Appeals affirmed last year.
     In reversing Tuesday, Bradley noted that the fire station had not been Burditt’s ultimate destination, even though fire department guidelines required him to travel there first in responding to a non-EMS call.
     “Rather, he is expected to pick up the necessary equipment and travel again to the scene of the emergency” as laid out by the fire department’s code of procedures, the decision states.
     An authorized emergency vehicle is required by law to give both a visual and an audible signal when driving through a red stop signal, Bradley noted.
     And even then, the operator must “drive ‘with due regard under the circumstances for the safety of all persons,'” according to the ruling.
     “Burditt by his own admission made a ‘poor decision’ to proceed through the red stop signal, proceeding while giving a visual signal, but not while giving any audible signal,” Bradley wrote.
     “His actions are undisputedly contrary” to state law, she added.

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