Terry McSweeney

Traffic Congestion Reduces Emergency Responders' Effectiveness, Places People at Risk: Fire Chief

Bay Area drivers may view traffic congestion as a frustration, but, to a veteran fire chief, it is a killer.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman blames urban designers who are not consulting with safety experts for eating into emergency response times.

A visibly frustrated Schapelhouman pointed to a dash cam video of one of his fire trucks trying recently to get to an accident scene on the Dumbarton Bridge.

The truck was forced to drive past oncoming traffic for six minutes.

"That center divide looks good but how does it look when a house burns down because of so much traffic," he emphasized.

According to Schapelhouman, it's not just center dividers that slow down first-responders. It’s also bike lanes and bus lanes and a good looking, but unsafe road design.

"[They’re] espousing the removal of lanes for different things, whether it's buses or bicycles," he said. "How does that work with emergency responders? Most of the time, they don't even think about that."

He continued: "There's a social reengineering design that is trying to eliminate vehicles, but the reality is people are driving cars."

Schapelhouman also said that until emergency responders are consulted before urban design changes take effect, the threat to public safety will only get worse.

"If you have a bad day in our business, people die," he stressed.

Menlo Park City Council members did not respond to NBC Bay Area’s request for a comment.

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