When you hear sirens as you’re driving, what’s your first reaction? For most people it’s to look around to locate an emergency vehicle, and then to pull over if it’s coming from behind them to allow the vehicle to pass. But sometimes a police car, ambulance or fire truck can be hard to spot. It may be approaching from a perpendicular street or be hidden by a vehicle behind you.

While not an everyday occurrence, car accidents involving emergency vehicles can happen. And when they do, determining who’s at fault isn’t always easy. Last week a woman in Mount Holly Springs, Pennsylvania, was killed in a collision with a fire truck. The Citizens Fire Company was responding to a car fire on Interstate 81 when it slammed into the passenger side of a car. The firefighters on the truck immediately jumped off to assist the car’s driver, a 70-year-old woman, but she couldn’t be revived and died of her injuries.

Although drivers are instructed to yield to emergency vehicles, that doesn’t mean that any accidents that happen are always the fault of the civilian driver. The state vehicle code specifies that non-emergency vehicles should yield to emergency vehicles that are responding to a call. But the code also states that if a non-emergency vehicle enters its path, the ambulance, fire truck or police car must yield to it. Pennsylvania State Police said that in this case, the fire truck driver failed to yield and is therefore at fault.

The fire company issued a public statement expressing its condolences to the family of the victim and the fire truck driver has been placed on administrative leave until a full investigation has been completed. There’s been no word yet on whether the accident victim’s family will file a lawsuit, but it’s possible they’ll seek and be granted compensation from the fire company for their loved one’s death.

Source: WHPTV.com, “Police and fire company release statements regarding fatal accident,” Nate Wardle, Dec. 8, 2011