My First-Ever Published Article

Published under the stupid title “Code-3 Tips to Avoid!” in Emergency magazine (a journal for street medics — now long-defunct), in December 1980. It was my first published piece. The roots of sarcasm — and truth, for that matter! — run deep.

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How To Drive Code 3

by Randy Cassingham

Proper Code-3 (light and siren) driving is an art. Like skiing, it looks easy and graceful; but one false move can mean disaster. In the last three years as an EMT, I have learned a lot of tricks for more effective emergency driving, and I would like to share some of them with you. The first thing you need is a call, or a place to go.

Once you know that you are going to get a call, it is best to get into heavy traffic or sit at a red light. This way you can create the most amount of havoc possible for other motorists. Hopefully, you will be behind some older gentleman in a Cadillac. You then hit the reds and siren, the headlights and spotlights, and make like you’ve been behind him for miles. When he finally sees you, he will pull over whether he is clear or not, and will probably need three or four sublingual nitros.

The one thing you must always watch for is the grey-haired lady driving a ’56 Rambler, wearing white gloves and hunched over the steering wheel so she can hardly see over the dash. You can see her watching you in her rear-view mirror. You can practically hear her thinking, “Just look at all those pretty lights”! You could kill her. The best thing to do in this instance is to pick up the public address microphone and ask her politely to move the hell over, preferably sometime today.

Pull over!

When approaching intersections where there is a red light, usually the best route to take is the left-hand turn lane, as this lane will typically clear before the others. This allows you to slip into it and fool everyone by going straight. However, you must watch for that helpful person who moves over (right into the turn lane) “to get out of your way,” which, of course, blocks your only lane of passage.

There are two ways to get around this situation. The first, and most tempting, is to use your push bar and shove him into cross traffic. As this usually ruins the company’s intensive PR effort (which was started the last time someone did that), the better option is to drive over the center divider and jump into oncoming lanes. Then, as you pass the offending driver, have your partner make an obscene gesture at him.

Note: The second (going over the divider) option is usually not a good idea when there are road crews gardening in the divider. The last time I did that, the manager got a nasty letter from the state. (One other thing to avoid: if you see a beautiful woman walking down the sidewalk, it is best not to make lewd comments over the P.A. as you pass. The one time I said something, she turned out to be the owner’s wife. My arm still hurts from waxing all the ambulances.)

When traveling on a long straightaway when there is a lot of traffic, you may notice most cars will not pull over for you. If they do see you, they will stop — in front of you. They will not get out of your way. Usually what I do is pull into oncoming traffic because you would be surprised how fast oncoming traffic will pull over for you. The reason for this is that the oncoming traffic can see you better.

When driving Code-3, the most dangerous things to look out for are other vehicles going Code-3. When responding to an accident, for instance, police cars, firetrucks, and perhaps other ambulances are also heading for the scene. It does not help to turn off your siren and listen for them. They have their sirens off, because they are listening for you. You should know that in a broad-side contest, firetrucks usually win over an ambulance. Sure, the law in most states says that ambulances have the right-of-way over firetrucks, but in this instance it is better to skid than be skidded over.

As you make your grand entrance to the scene of the emergency by peaking out the siren and sliding sideways into the most obtrusive parking space you can find, the cop that beat you to the call tells you that it was a hoax. It is very important at this time sound indignant; you risked your life and limb pushing through traffic to save someone’s life. Someone had better apologize, or you’re not coming to this neighborhood again. The cop, of course, doesn’t have to know that you had the time of your life, and you can hardly wait until the next Code-3.

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In 2023, when moving out of our Colorado house, I found a note from my grandmother sent in response to my having sent her a copy of this article. “I really enjoyed your humor,” she wrote, “especially about the little grey-haired lady in the ’56 Rambler (incidentally, mine was a ’59.)”