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'What if it's their family?' WRTV Investigates drivers not pulling over for IEMS

Posted at 7:16 PM, Dec 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-22 19:16:01-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Paramedics respond to hundreds of calls every day in Indianapolis alone but are often faced with obstacles slowing them down.

Seconds matter during an emergency. Sirens are supposed to alert drivers to pull over to the right to allow first responders to quickly get by, but WRTV Investigates learned, that's not the case for Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services.

"What if it's their family?" said medic Kalvin Hicks.

Hicks has been saving lives for 29 years, but getting to and from emergencies is an obstacle he faces daily.

"Every day that we are on, it's kind of wild. So we try to keep it safe, but sometimes they hear us but they don't stop, so it's an ongoing thing for us," said Hicks.

WRTV rode along with IEMS Paramedic District Lieutenant Laura Herring.

On our first call, a red SUV continued to drive in the left lane and went through a yellow light and kept going — even though Lt. Herring is behind them.

"Somebody called 911 because they needed us for something," she said.

Moments later, a van just stops.

"He had plenty of opportunity to get over and has chosen not to," she said.

Lt. Herring says the presence of ambulances and emergency vehicles doesn't always register with people until the last minute.

"We just have to keep following people and just try to inch our way through until somebody pays attention or has that ah ha moment like 'oh, I gotta get out of my way,'" said Lt. Herring.

"Some people stop. Some people freeze. We try to get on the air horn and say move to the right, or most of the time people just panic; they don't know what to do because cars in front of them aren't moving, so they are frustrated because they aren't moving ... we are frustrated because they aren't moving, so it just is what it is," said Hicks.

Drivers not giving first responders the right of way is a challenge that's been plaguing Marion County.

In 2019, a driver smashed into Lt. Herring's ambulance as she went to a call.

"We get told we have x amount of time to respond to the run when it comes out on the computer and we have x amount of time to get from our station or wherever we are to that dispatched location ... so we are constantly being timed. When you are challenging our times, that becomes personal for us because you are preventing me from doing my job and I think that's what it comes down to," said Lt. Herring. "It's a frustration level for the responder to know I am supposed to be doing this. I am supposed to be responding emergent to this and this person or traffic or construction or whatever it is is preventing me from doing that."

The medical service averages around 360 calls a day, or more than 120,000 calls for 2022.

For cardiac arrests, trauma and other calls, the goal is to arrive on scene ten minutes or less from dispatch.

IEMS says even if it's taking longer to get there, ambulances aren't called off a scene.

A crew can ask dispatch to send someone else; that emergency can then be picked up by nearby medics offering to take it.

Medics say the increased traffic from the North Split construction and miscommunication from the city about road closures is also causing headaches.

"Every single day, different roads are open or closed or there is a shift in lanes or something is different about them and we don't always get notified about those changes until we see them and we are like 'oh hey there is a roadblock' and we have to figure a way around it," said Hicks.

While IEMS medics fight the delays on the roads, Lt. Herring says she wouldn't change her career for the world. She just has this plea.

"My plea to other drivers is just let me do my job. Let me get through the city; let me get through the streets. I am not trying to make your day worse. I'm trying to make somebody else's day better," said Lt. Herring.