I had an unpleasant experience last week with a member of the Prince William County Fire and Rescue crew. While I think it might turn out all right, the experience has left me deeply unsettled. On top of several unpleasant experiences Winnie and I have had with county police and public officials these past years, I now have to wonder about firefighters and paramedic personnel.
Prince William County depends upon volunteer firefighter’s for most of the county’s emergency needs. There are twelve departments across the county managed by the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Association. Last week I was put into the position of writing a letter of complaint over the actions of one of their members.
Prince William County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association
1 County Complex Court, MC 470
Prince William, Virginia 22192
Dear Sir or Ma’am;
This letter is a strong complaint against the actions of a member of the Occoquan – Woodbridge – Lorton (OWL) Volunteer Fire Department, Station Two.
To summarize my complaint; yesterday evening a member of the OWL Volunteer Fire Department:
- Failed to render assistance upon encountering a dangerous situation of one highway lane blocked at an intersection due to a vehicle breakdown, during peak commuting hours.
- Verbally harassed me as I was doing my best to clear a dangerous traffic situation.
- Blocked a second highway lane during peak commute hours to provoke a confrontation.
- Interfered with a tow truck operator removing a vehicle in a dangerous traffic situation.
- Escalated the confrontation he initiated by threatening to involve law enforcement.
Yesterday evening while I was driving home my SUV broke down on the Prince William Highway side of the Jefferson Davis Highway / Prince William Highway / E. Longview Drive intersection at about 5:45PM. This was an extremely dangerous situation. That part of the intersection has four lanes including right and left turn lanes. There was no way to roll my SUV off traveling lanes; my emergency blinkers were dim due to an electrical system problem (which was cause of the breakdown), and traffic at peak commuting time was extremely heavy. I called for a tow and did what I could to direct traffic around my SUV which was blocking the right straight-thru lane. No police ever arrived to assist.
A flat-bed tow truck arrived about 30 minutes after I called, coming in on the left straight-thru lane. As it came past me I stepped out behind it to stop traffic so the tow could maneuver in front of my SUV. Immediately behind the tow truck was a yellow SUV. As I stood in the left lane waiting for the truck to get tow position, a matter of a few moments, the driver of the yellow SUV yelled at me “You Are Not Allowed to Block the Lane!” I ignored him, still watching as the tow positioned itself. The driver yelled at me again “You Are Not Allowed to Block the Lane. Get Out Of The Road!” At this point the tow was in front of my SUV so I stepped out of the lane. I replied to the driver “Back Off. I’m trying to get towed out of here.”
The driver pulled up next to the tow truck and stopped. The position of his SUV prevented the tow truck operator from getting out of his cab, and blocked a second lane of traffic. At this point I could see that the yellow SUV had the “OWL” and the Station Two “Two-Bees” logo on the rear door. The driver got out, walked around his car, came up to me and said “are you yelling at me?” His posture and tone of voice was threatening. He was not wearing a nametag and made no attempt to identify himself.
I said “I’m trying to help this tow truck get me out of here.” The driver stated “You do not have the right to block traffic. I know the law.” I repeated “I’m trying to help this tow truck get me out of here.” The driver replied “I know the law. You cannot block traffic. Do you want me to call the police? I know the police, and I know the law. I work with the police all the time. I’ll call them right now if I have to. Do you want me to call them?”
At this point I stopped talking, on basis that getting into an altercation in the middle of a highway intersection during peak commuting hours was a losing proposition. The driver stared at me, smug, for about a minute as I restrained myself, then he walked back to his SUV and drove off. The tow truck driver was now able to get out of his cab, pulled my SUV up on the flatbed, and hauled it away.
In my opinion, this person seriously abused his “position of authority” as a volunteer firefighter and made an already dangerous traffic situation much worse. Driving an official OWL vehicle makes him an official representative of the OWL Station Two Volunteer Fire Department and his actions reflect poorly on at least his entire station. If he is typical of the OWL Volunteer Fire Department community, I pray I never have to depend upon their services.
I mailed this letter on Wednesday October 1, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect as a response. On Monday afternoon October 6 I did receive a phone call from the Chief of the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Department. The conversation was actually quite pleasant, and the Chief was very sincere in expressing his disappointment in the actions of his member. He explained that this behavior was not what he expected, and asked for any amplifying information to help him identify who the individual might have been.
I also thought that the Chief was “feeling me out” to determine my credibility, which I don’t hold against him as I would have done the same in his position. The phone call ended with the Chief promising me a letter response once he was able to “get to the bottom” of the incident. As always, I’ll publish a follow-up.
2004 Isuzu Rodeo SUV : My story of owning a 2005 Isuzu Rodeo. This was the third Isuzu I owned and sadly will probably be the last.
Rescue on the Potomac : Wherein I come full circle in my boating skills, from needing to be towed in to towing in another boater.
Where Are The Good Samaritans? : Observations on lack of assistance when having car problems on the road.