So I wrote a letter

Three things about me:

  1. I live in this city, and pay taxes in this city. Not just sales taxes, I am a homeowner here, so I get to actually use the “I pay your salary” line for city workers.
  2. I am an emergency worker, and I know how to use due regard.
  3. I know what I am supposed to do when approached by an emergency vehicle while I am driving my personal vehicle. I also know how not to be an ass when I am driving an emergency vehicle.

I imagine all of my EMS readers would fit in that above description.

What happened:

I was running an errand to pick up a toilet paper roll, a corkscrew, and some tinfoil, when I had to make a left-hand turn. I deftly activated my signaling device and gently moved into the center turn lane to await clearance in the oncoming traffic.

While I was waiting for a clearing to turn, I heard the firetruck. I looked in my rearview mirror, while keeping my hands expertly on the wheel at the nine- and three o’clock position. The fire truck was approaching from behind me in the left-hand travel lane.

The cars in the oncoming lane stopped. The fire truck moved into the center turn lane and stopped behind me.

And blared it’s horn.

I did what I thought should have been done. I heard the truck and I held my position. If I had been driving straight, I would have pulled as far to the right as possible, and stopped completely until the truck passed. The other cars did what they should have done: they stopped as well.

After several seconds, and realizing the fire truck was not going to do the easy thing, and simply go around me, I made my turn, swinging my car onto the right-hand shoulder of the road. I turned my head slightly to watch the crew drive by, wondering which station they were from, and if I knew anyone in the truck. As I did, the front seat passenger showed me something.

Both of his middle fingers.

I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to do.

So I wrote a letter. Several letters, actually.

To the Chief of the Fire Department, the mayor, each member of the city council, and two newspapers.


  1. If that had happened in my town I would have met the crew at the station after the call and told them what unbelievable dipshits they just made themselves look like. Depending on their reactions, I would then proceed to write letters til my hand cramped.

  2. As the guy who reads and responds to such letters…keep’em coming.

  3. I know that I’ve heard emergency services workers joke about doing things like that and maybe even I have too. However, if I ever caught someone actually doing it I would have their hindquarters in some sort of sling-like apparatus and/or have them flying cargo planes full of rubber dog feces out of Hong Kong.

    What a way to absolutely ruin our collective image and any remaining goodwill we may still have left simply because they’re being jackholes.

    • When I was but a wee-lad on an ambulance, while working with a shift commander, I once barked at a dog over the PA system.

      My supervisor/partner/boss literally slapped me.

      I never did that again.

  4. I would snap the offending fingers off and keep them in a jar of formaldehyde on my desk. I’d probably come up with some witty saying to put on a sign that says “This is what happens when you disrespect the person who pays your salary” and put it under the jar.

    Then I would make Lt Eight Fingers produce and teach a department-wide class on “Respecting the Taxpayer”.

  5. Good on ya for writing letters. Who ever the firefighter was needs reteaching on how to respect others and how they, when in uniform, are the public face of the entire department. I have seen acts like that cause huge PR issues for companies and not just fire departments. As for the driver he might just need a word in his ear about what to do in a situation such as that. Here if I cause someone to break a road rule or cause an accident, it is my fault and I get the penalties of court and my employer.

  6. Unbelievable. I, too, would be writing letters that would be smokin’ hot…in a very civil but pointed manner of course. It’s bad enough that it happened to you, but can you imagine how many civilians he may have done that to? The fact that he was so obviously comfortable doing that in daylight AND meant for you to see it is very troublesome. He feels entitled to do so, and that may speak to the culture of the entire department. If he has rank, that’s even worse. Rock on, let the words fly!~~~Tam

  7. I’d like to know what, if anything, you hear back.
    I hope it has some information on what they plan to do to keep this from happening again.

  8. I would determine the crew, then refer the letter to the Deputy Chief if Operations who would assign it to an investigator for possible violations of on duty decorum rules. It is taken very seriously here. My.response.would be to apologize for the activity on behalf of myself, the Department and my profession and let them know it was being.reviewed. upon completion of the investigation I will personally follow up with a letter.

  9. I have a PT partner that will give people the stink eye (and make eye contact with someone in the vehicle) when they don’t do what they are supposed to do while driving in the path we are taking (or even if they do what they are supposed to do, but it isn’t what was anticipated). It upsets me, and yes I do say something, but it still happens. When I am driving, I try to have no less than 2 options, if possible, of egress in traffic. As I teach during the driving course of orientation, your ambulance is a moving billboard, and people will call and complain.

  10. Great response to this incident.

    I also hope at some point in the future you have an opportunity to write to your elected officials about great work being done by city workers.

    Now what is your plan for the TP, foil, and corkscrew? Sounds intriguing.

  11. As someone who often sites in the non-driving position of them big red trucks, I appreciate your professional response to such an incident. From an officer’s perspective, the driving part of the incident is certainly incorrect, but will likely get argued into the ground by the driver. I’m not saying that that’s the right way to drive, or that nothing should happen. I’m just giving my observation. On the other hand, the part of the incident involving digits is another matter. Not only indefensible, it would not be tolerated by ANY department and is, as comments above state, a poor reflection on anyone driving a vehicle with blinky lights, regardless of size, color or purpose.

  12. I agree it was completely out of line and unprofessional indeed, however letters to the Mayor, councilmen AND newspapers?! That’s a little much. In this case, a letter to the Chief would’ve been acceptable and maybe a visit to the FD’s shift BC to personally to advise that the Officers actions were completely appropriate.

    I would further say your actions, with letters to public officials/mayor/council is “unprofessional” as well.

    Here’s the deal, I assume you know these FD guys, work with em’, have some sort of professional connection etc. etc. so my question to you would be, are ALL FD companies the same in regard to disrespect? What you have done with your letters is thrown every FD member under the bus within the public eye AND their city council members. The public and city dwellers DO NOT know how to differentiate trust me and I promise that is not cool nor is it displaying professional courtesy(I know even to the A-HOLE who flipped you off) to the FD you have now attacked.

    Believe me firemen talk, even in big cities and their is the real potential for backlash to come your way is some form or fashion, which is also lame but just the nature of human reaction.

    The moral is we all have to get along and work together in this business so next time I would suggest being a little more discreet and give the benefit of the doubt before you buckshot and entire Department for one morons actions…

    Good luck!

    DJ Stone
    Career EMT Fireman in the NW FLA
    Part time ambulance EMT

    • Mr. Stone;

      The Mayor and City Council where I live are the two branches of city leadership. Each and every city employee reports not only to their individual bosses, but to the Mayor, and the Council as whole as well. My letter to the newspapers was brief, and lauded the courage and benevolence of the local fire department, but made it perfectly clear that they, too, have customers. If I were a member of the city council, I would like to be informed of such rude actions of my employees.

      Please, elaborate on how my letters to public officials and newspapers is “unprofessional” as you say. I am a consummate professional, and so should be those that work for me.

      I do not work with this Fire Department. I do not know many firefighters in my city, What I did with my letter(s) was to show that their individual actions was not the norm, and was unacceptable. Residents everywhere should expect much, much more. I do not “disrespect” any fireman or fire department. Anywhere.

      I would suggest a little more discretion as well. Perhaps the discretion from the officer in charge to keep his middle fingers where they belong, and not show them to someone who pays their salary.

      • Good points, and I’ll say for the record I DO NOT SUPPORT the actions of the middle finger wag lol. Anyhow I would suggest thinking about how an action may be viewed by peers and associates.

        For example let’s say you were on a call and your partner( he is a total terd) were on a call and he was being rude to the pt. and using curse words as you guys loaded the pt. into the rig. Now consider if I was on the FD crew, saw this from a distance, and immediately went to my computer, pecked out a letter to YOUR EMS chief, your administrator, your senior staff of the same organization THEN sent a letter to the paper…probably wouldn’t be so cool (considering you weren’t the guy who acted that way but were lumped in with the your partners actions).

        The point is carrying stuff up the chain(beyond the Fire Chief) and in the public eye for isolated incidents(considering this activity is not a regular occurrence) sometimes lends to further complications within FD’s and city staff and the public, especially if the FD is a union dept… It just complicates things.

        Discipline for the guy should be in private and not broadcast for all to see. I too work for a City govt. (mayor council set up). The mayor and council rarely get into each dept.’s business within the city and allows each manager of that dept. handle its own business unless it gets out of hand.

        The letters appear unprofessional to me. I know in my city I witness many many incidents of lame rude medics on county rigs treating our customers poorly. In fact my step father had an incident with a medic where she referred & convinced my mother to take him in her own car to the ER when he was having an active embolism! (long story for another time) While I was not on that call I handled incident by following my chain of command and expressing via my supervisors my displeasure, along with a letter to her Chief. Long story shorter she is still on the job and the situation was corrected. She no longer treats our customers within the district poorly and nobody but us involved know the story.

        Opinions are like A-holes and I’m sure mine stinks lol, it just doesn’t set right with me man. Maybe it’s my group mentality of being a fireman, I don’t know. I do know the “perception is reality” and in this case it doesn’t look good.

        Obviously you are a passionate guy about your craft and I applaud you for your efforts on this site. Just maybe next time don’t punch the whole FD by going all the way up the chain to and including the paper. You never know you may find yourself on the bad end of a complaint the next time YOU are having a bad day…

        Stay safe out there and wear them gloves!

        • In your hypothetical scenario, I am the officer in charge of my partner, and if I cannot correct his behavior at that moment, then a letter would be appropriate. In my (non-hypothetical) scenario, the actions in question were perpetrated by the officer in charge, as opposed to one of his partners.

  13. Flash Larry says:

    I’m with Greg on the three items that you bought. Please tell us that it was the purchase of three unrelated items.

    Having been a member of the executive staff of a public safety agency and in EMS now for … well, never mind … I agree that this deserves a letter to the chief. I’m not so sure about the newspapers but if you feel it will help, then that’s your choice.

    The incident itself begins with the driving issue. In most states, “pull to the right and stop” is – abbreviated – what the law says. That you did not do. What you did was actually better than following the law because you provided a clear and unobstructed way for the engine to proceed without taking action that would potentially have obstructed the way or made the engine have to delay which you made the move. It’s a case where not following the letter of the law fulfils the intent of the law more effectively. I often lecture on this sort of thing when I’m teaching EMS law. It’s an issue of reasonability.

    On the other hand, it appears that the engine driver reacted because of a legal fiction that appears in EMS mythology, which I have heard recited countless times and which goes like this: “When we approach a vehicle from behind, they are supposed to move to the right and stop. If we go around them on the right, and they suddenly pull over to the right to comply with the law and hit us and the accident will be our fault.” That is the legal fiction but is sometimes even taught in emergency driving classes. In the state in which I live, it is not true because a vehicle operator is at fault if he changes lanes and strikes a vehicle occupying that lane. There is nothing – nothing! – in the law that says that he may change lanes and strike a vehicle occupying that lane unless said vehicle is using lights and sirens.

    So I have worked with partners over the years, some firemen, some not, who will do exactly what the engine driver did in your case, instead of safely doing the most efficient and simplest thing.

    As far as the finger, yes, a complaint was warranted because someone who will engage in this kind of behavior will not stop there. This is a person who has an unprofessional demeanor towards the people who are not in his business – or whom he doesn’t know are in his business – and it probably spills over into other areas as well. And, if his colleagues and immediate superiors tolerate it, then it is pervasive in the agency. Hmm. So maybe that letter to the papers is warranted after all to bring some public attention to this.

    Back in the 1970′s, I worked part-time for a small local private service. We had problems with a couple of the guys getting onto the PA and yelling at people. The owner walked around the lot one day with a pair if shears and cut the cords to the microphones and took them away. That solved the problem. There was crying in the parking lot that morning.

    Having said that, and having been executive staff, I agree with the other comment. What you hear are complaints, complaints, complaints. I think it is just as important to write a letter when one sees exemplary behavior. I had personal contact with the local police and EMS for an incident in my family and wrote to the chief and to the owner of the service telling them how well their personnel had performed. Interestingly, I never got a response from either acknowledging the receipt of those letters. I only hope they ended up in the files of the personnel involved.

    • I have written two letters of commendation. One to the local FD for exceptional care, and one to the local Sheriff’s office for assistance given by an off duty deputy in a wreck that my ambulance was involved in. I never received any acknowledgement that they were received or passed on to the people I was commending. I think after so many commendation letters, it would become evident to the sender that nothing was being done to recognize them, hence they stop.
      But send a negative one, and you will know all about it because they are going to want to make you happy.
      Kind of sad.

  14. I’m not necessarily a fan of jumping right to the media (even the local paper) with this sort of thing.

    As an operations supervisor (watch commander, duty supervisor, whatever you want to call it), I take my share of phone call complaints from people. I’ve had to make a few apologies for that kind of behavior from some of my staff. Most change their behavior quickly. Others find employment elsewhere.

    As the department’s PIO (we run lean on management…so it’s one of my many hats), we spend a lot of time trying to promote our profession and department. Unfortunately, one badly-placed letter can undermine a year’s worth of good works. As such, were I in your shoes, I would’ve passed on the media. As for the others; I’d agree 100%. As you pointed out, this was one of their officers. As such, it calls into at least a small level of question the leadership abilities of the chief.

  15. so… any response?

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