Driver took hands off steering wheel, flashed 2 thumbs up as fire engine with lights and siren on sped through red light
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A Cal Fire employee based in Riverside County is challenging a demotion for taking his hands off the steering wheel and flashing two thumbs up to a traffic-enforcement camera as his fire engine, with its emergency lights and siren on, sped through a red light at a Corona intersection.
Patrick O'Donoghue appeared at a state personnel board hearing Monday and Tuesday in Rancho Cucamonga, hoping to reverse his demotion from engineer to firefighter. The administrative law judge has 90 days to render a decision, which the personnel board can reject or modify, Cal Fire staff services analyst Kim Spire wrote in an email. O'Donoghue could then appeal the board's decision to Superior Court.
The incident occurred in November 2010. O'Donoghue was based at Station 38 in Rubidoux but on that day was assigned to Station 15 in Corona, Cal Fire spokeswoman Janet Upton said.
O'Donoghue's attorney, David J. Givot, said O'Donoghue acknowledges using poor judgment with his gesture and going through the red light around 60 mph when Cal Fire policy states he should have been driving at 5 mph.
Givot said he argued during the hearing, however, that the punishment was excessive.
"While he didn't comply with Cal Fire's policy with regard to speed of travel through an intersection, his actions didn't put anyone directly in danger," Givot said in a phone interview. "There were two vehicles clearly stopped."
An excerpt from its driver's policy provided by Cal Fire states: "The safety of the general public must take precedence in all cases over the response speed of the emergency vehicle. The law requires that the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle which is responding to an emergency use good judgment. It does not relieve the driver from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway, nor does it protect the driver from the consequences of an arbitrary and careless exercise of exemption privileges…"