Friday, April 27, 2012

Red Light Camera vs. Fire Engine

Few hate red light cameras more than I. I think that they are a sissy way to enforce laws (collect revenue) and that they do little to reduce accidents. For the record, I have never received a red light camera ticket - yet that does not diminish my hatred for them.

I may have found someone who hates them more than I. Patrick O'Donoghue was an engineer for Cal-Fire. O'Donoghue was operating a fire engine and responding to a call when he ran through a red light. Apparently, he knew that the intersection was monitored by a red light camera, so he flashed a thumbs-up signal to the camera as he busted the intersection. He reportedly used both hands to give the thumbs-up and was traveling at 60 mph when he did so. As a result of his actions, he was demoted from engineer to firefighter, a disciplinary action which he feels is extreme. He is currently appealing his demotion to the state personnel board.

The offense reportedly occurred in the City of Corona back in November of 2010, though I don't know which intersection. O'Donoghue was driving out of Riverside County Sta. #15,  which is located in the City of Corona and protects unincorporated areas located just outside of the city limits.

I can't find where Cal-Fire was said specifically why O'Donoghue was demoted, but they apparently provided the Press - Enterprise a copy of their operating policy which addresses due regard for safety while operating emergency vehicles. Two hands not on the wheel, excessive speed  and the hand gestures might fall under the due regard doctrine, but as this is a personnel issue, Cal-Fire isn't saying much.

O'Donoghue's attorney,  David Givot said that O'Donoghue acknowledges using poor judgement in displaying the hand signals and driving through the red light at 60 mph. Givot argued at the personnel board hearing that the punishment was excessive.

The Press-Enterprise, our local rag, ran this story yesterday and also ran a poll on the matter. Readers were asked what punishment O'Donoghue deserved for displaying the thumbs-up gesture as he went through the red light. As of an hour ago, the results were:

Demotion - 26%
Reprimand - 42%
Suspension - 14%
No Punishment - 16%
Don't Know - 2%

The poll is deceiving as it does not address the speed at which O'Donoghue was traveling through the red light. Personally, I have no problem with the gesture, in fact a thumbs-up gesture is far more benign  than the one I would have given.

The speed issue is another matter. Not knowing what intersection this occurred at or what conditions were present, makes it difficult for me to give an educated opinion on this - though 60 mph does seem excessive.

What I DO have a problem with is that Cal-Fire was even made aware of the event in the first place. If the offender had been a black and white for Riverside County Sheriff's Dept, the matter would have been closed when the photo was reviewed by Corona P.D.

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that a citation cannot be issued to an entity, so a phone call was made to the county Fire Dept, advising them of the event. I also suspect that this call was probably a result of  City vs. County conflict or, worse yet, the continuing animosity of P.D. vs. F.D. I know a few cops from Corona, they are not big fans of their bastard child step-brothers on the big red (or white) trucks.

Regardless, O'Donoghue's demotion seems extreme to me. Perhaps a day or two off or a written reprimand would be more in order.

I would also advise company officers to monitor their engineer's driving habits and mentor them as needed. It might save everybody some grief in the future.

Click on the Press-Enterprise link for the full story, they did a good job with this. Take the survey as well. Let them know what you think.

Thanks for reading,



  1. I want to see the photo.
    And possibly make it the wallpaper on my laptop.
    And blowing an intersection at 60 in a fully loaded engine...he HAD to have good sight lines of the cross street. The thought of anyone making engineer and trying that on a blind crossing just gives me the willies.

    Also, most red light cameras I've seen are in fairly built up areas. And I've never seen an engine running code in a built up area that had the chance to get up highway speeds. Where ever he was headed he apparently wanted to be there yesterday.

    As for red light and speed cameras....
    The language I use for such is not the sort I'd use in a civil place such as this.


  2. The safety of the general public must take precedence in all cases over the response speed of the emergency vehicle.

    Since the general public was not put at risk, I see no problem here. I voted for no punishment to be assigned.

    This looks like a case of Nanny state to me. I entrust my fire department to use their best judgement to get the job done. After several years of experience and training, I am going to presume they know more about their job than I do (what a concept!) and that they damned sure know more about their job than some asinine elected official with too much influence and control over things he or she knows little to nothing about.

    If you have a PD vs. FD feud going on, the brass should put a stop to it in no uncertain terms. Such things get in the way of service and that's a luxury I don't think any community can afford.

    City vs. County is a more likely scenario, although I don't know the players. City elected officials can get greedy and arrogant; usually they want a larger city to play in and they're not a bit shy about saying so. I'm betting County handles the fire service, and so doesn't have to snap to attention and salute when a fat city councilman waddles by and wants to inspect the station house.

    Anyway, that's my very own two bits.

  3. BG - As do I. I am sure there is a collection of humorous red-light camera pics somewhere, I have just never found them.

    The area where I suspect that this occurred is a newer one with wide six lane blvds. If traffic was light, it would be easy to attain highway speeds - not that one should.

    Mad Jack - The city has it's own fire dept, the county/Cal-Fire protects an unincorporated area near by. It may have been a "don't drive fast in my town" thing who knows. Regardless, I think it's pretty chickenshit that it had to come to this. Believe me, a lot of cops dislike firefighters more than the other way around. It's just the way it is.

    Thanks for the comments.

  4. Cal Fire policy is to slow down to a stop at red lights and proceed with caution when traffic yields the right of way.

    This engineer deserves what he got.

  5. Bob - You know CAL Fire policy far better than I. Our agency had a full stop policy for a while, then rescinded it for one where one must slow to a safe and reasonable speed.

    Either way, 60 is too fast. I'm pretty sure I found the intersection in question, freeway speeds are not appropriate.

    I don't know the offender, nor his driving record or reputation. Unless one or both are sullied, I feel a suspension may have been more appropriate. IMHO.

    Thanks for the comment