The People, &c.
Aaron J. Loren,
2005 NY Int. 59
We hold that Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1102 permits a fire chief to empower subordinate firefighters to regulate and direct traffic at the scene of a fire or accident.
On December 17, 2003, units from the Village of Poland
Approaching the roadblock from the north, defendant
ignored the firefighters' order to stop. Instead, he swerved
into the northbound lane, which was not closed by the
firefighters, and continued southward. Other drivers attempted
to follow defendant around the roadblock. The two firefighters
ran after defendant, shouting, waving their arms as well as the
orange flag. Defendant stopped his car briefly, and Squire
opened the passenger door in an attempt to identify him.
Before the Village Court, defendant argued that he did not violate VTL § 1102 because volunteer firefighters, who are not members of a fire police squad, have no authority to direct traffic. Reasoning that a fire chief has authority to direct traffic at the scene of an emergency and can delegate this responsibility to subordinates, the court found that defendant violated VTL § 1102. County Court affirmed. A Judge of this Court granted leave, and we affirm.
We determine that the two volunteer firefighters were
"duly empowered to regulate traffic" under VTL § 1102 because
they were acting under instructions from the Department's fire
chief, who enjoys independent statutory authority to direct
traffic at the scene of an accident, fire or other emergency.
This power derives from VTL § 1602 -- the "Emergency rule."
" [i]n the event of a fire or other emergency or to expedite traffic or to safeguard pedestrians or property. . . [a] person empowered to regulate traffic at the scene may, to the extent authorized by local law, ordinance, order, rule, regulation or administrative code provision adopted by local authorities with respect to highways within their corporate boundaries, direct traffic as conditions may require notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter or of local laws, ordinances, orders, rules, regulations, administrative code or sanitary code provisions regulating traffic"
We have little difficulty in concluding that the "Emergency rule" authorizes a fire chief to direct traffic at the scene of an accident or a fire. A fire chief's responsibility to coordinate a department's response to an emergency necessarily includes the power both to keep the public out of harm's way and to keep people from obstructing firefighters' all-important mission of protecting life and limb.
Further, we hold that fire chiefs may delegate their VTL § 1602 authority to regulate traffic to their subordinates. Village Law § 10-1018 specifies that the fire chief shall "have exclusive control of the members [of the department] at all fires" (emphasis added). Our interpretation of this language respects the fire chief's authority to direct firefighters to undertake tasks critical to public safety, such as diverting traffic away from the scene of a fire or dangerous accident. Accordingly, the order of County Court should be affirmed.