Why you might not recognize these emergency vehicles on Oahu

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With all the damage caused by the weather, emergency crews have been out in full force.

Lately, we’ve noticed a different type of vehicle responding to emergencies. It looks like a Honolulu police vehicle, but it has a red light, a color that is normally associated with ambulances or fire trucks.

So what are these vehicles and what you need to know if you see one?

Turns out, the vehicles are part of the city’s Department of Emergency Management. Most of them are owned and operated by a special group of volunteers known as the Emergency Management Reserve Corps.

“Their duties include alert and warning, say for a tsunami evacuation,” said John Cummings with the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management. “They also assist with road blocks if we have a road closure or like last week in Kaaawa when the road washed out there. A lot of what they do in the field is to free up a police officer or emergency responder so they can go about their duties.”

Because they’re privately owned, some of the vehicles don’t have any official markings. The red lights are provided by the city for a cost of about $500 each.

But why red?

“Prior to the red lights, we had amber and a lot of our volunteers noticed people weren’t really paying attention, because when you see an amber light on a vehicle, you think tow truck or service vehicle, so this is just to make the vehicles a little more visible and to give folks a moment to say hey, something serious is happening here. I need to pay attention,” Cummings said.

For the most part, these emergency vehicles will be stationary when out in the community. However, during evacuations they may move through the community to warn residents. In instances like this, drivers should pull over if they see one trying to get through.

All private vehicles must past safety inspections by the DEM and the Department of Motor Vehicles before being used for emergency situations. Volunteers must go through specialized training before they can respond to emergencies.

Right now the city has about 200 volunteers in the reserve corps and 32 authorized red-light emergency vehicles. Some may be marked with magnetic signs or a window placard.

“Volunteers, they’re working for free. They’re helping the community. They live the community,” Cummings said. “If we have to add a price tag to that for a city employee, that’s a lot of money, so we get invaluable service and response from our volunteers.”

The city does offer mileage reimbursement for personal vehicles and provides volunteers with meals while on duty.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer, click here for more information.

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