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Public Safety

Emergency Workers Remind Motorists To Slow Down, Pull Over

Leaders of area fire departments and law enforcement agencies reminded motorists today to slow down and pull over for emergency personnel, in the wake of the death of a medic who was setting out flares at the scene of a traffic accident.

August Ghio of the San Diego County Fire Chiefs' Association said 20 percent of firefighter deaths occur on roadways.

Esteban Bahena, a 24-year-old emergency medical technician, was struck last Thursday morning by a vehicle traveling freeway speeds past the scene of a traffic collision on state Route 163 near Washington Street.

The Lemon Grove resident was pronounced dead at Scripps Memorial Hospital 90 minutes later.

Roadway accidents killed 17 firefighters between 1995 and 1999, the last such figures available, according to Ghio.

"I still hear the comments all the time on the close calls (emergency personnel face) on the roadways," Ghio said. "People don't mean to put firefighters at risk, but they fail to look ahead and plan to pull over."

People are just too busy and distracted while they drive, Ghio said.

California Highway Patrol Capt. Rich Stewart said motorists need to be aware when law enforcement patrol cars, fire trucks, ambulances and even tow trucks and vehicles belonging to lifeguards and Caltrans workers are responding to emergency situations.

He said a law that went into effect two years ago requires motorists to drive cautiously when emergency workers are present.

"We want you to slow down first, then pull over if it's safe to do so," Stewart said.

Javier Mainar, chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, said a memorial service for Bahena has been scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at The Rock Church at Liberty Station.

The department has been "overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community" since Bahena's death, Mainar said.

A makeshift memorial filled with American flags was visible near an entrance to the Kearny Mesa fire station where today's news conference was held.

Donations to a memorial fund can be made to the San Diego Firefighters Credit Union, according to Mainar.