Emergency response bill won’t affect local agencies

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2018

On May 7, 2017 Kaelin Kersh, a young Mississippi State University graduate, was killed after an MHP trouper struck the car she was a passenger in at a high rate of speed. According to previous coverage by the Associated Press, Kersh had been out with friends celebrating their graduation until about 1 a.m. when the accident occurred in Starkville. The officer’s dash camera showed that he had been driving at approximately 100 mph in a 45 mph zone. Kersh was the only person who sustained fatal injuries.

In response to this tragedy, Kersh’s family decided to take action and formed the “Kaelin Kersh Act.” The “Kaelin Kersh Act” is a proposed amendment to House Bill 1202 that would require emergency vehicles traveling 30 mph or more above the posted speed limit use their emergency lights. It was recently approved by the House and has since been sent to the Senate for further debate.

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Emergency vehicle related accidents are a common occurrence.

According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between the years 1992 and 2011, an average of 4,500 crashes involving an ambulance occurred each year. Of these crashes, 34 percent resulted in injuries. In addition, an average of 33 fatalities occurred per year due to those accidents, the article states.

According to a safety initiative by the U.S. Fire Administration, in 2010, approximately 14,200 fire response vehicle collisions occurred. Many of these incidents involved civilians.

“Collisions result in not only injuries to firefighters and economic loss to fire departments, but also injuries, fatalities and economic losses to the civilian population, since collisions usually occur with civilian vehicles” the article states.

The safety initiative also quoted statistics for law enforcement officers, stating that between 2003 and 2012, about 49 percent of all law enforcement fatalities were vehicle-related.

On a local level, emergency vehicles may follow stricter departmental rules. According to Picayune Police Department Assistant Chief of Police Jeremy Magri, all officers in the department are required to use lights and sirens when responding to an emergency or life-threatening situation. Magri said that it is important for an officer to use his or her emergency signals “for their protection and the citizens’ protection.”

Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown said that, generally, fire trucks do not surpass the posted speed limit. That’s because fire trucks are prone to roll overs, especially on small city streets with lots of curves. While Brown said that firefighters use common sense when responding to an emergency, fire truck drivers typically follow state recommended speeds.

According to previous reports by the Associated Press, the officer involved in the death of Kaelin Kersh did not have his lights turned on. Because of the late hour, Kersh and her friends could not see him coming until it was too late.