What’s a Fire Truck if It Can’t Get to the Flames?

February 24, 2012 Updated: February 27, 2012

Fire trucks aren’t much use if they get stuck in traffic. This principle was demonstrated recently in China after a fire truck rushing to a flaming noodle restaurant was obstructed, and even cut off, by drivers who couldn’t be troubled to pull aside. 

Video of the incident on Feb. 16—alongside a diametrical comparison of German good-behavior—has garnered millions of hits on China’s Internet and inspired some soul searching. 

The incident was reported in China’s Beijing News

“What’s so tragic about this is that after over ten minutes the fire truck hardly moved among other vehicles. Only one car moved to another lane to make way for the fire trucks,” a netizen wrote online, describing the debacle. “Yet another passenger car jumped right in front of the fire trucks. The fire truck driver could do nothing but honk the horn.” 

At that stage black smoke was billowing from the restaurant—destroying noodles but harming none—while five fire trucks were honking horns behind unconcerned drivers.

Firefighters interviewed the following day said that it was fairly common. “If there is traffic police on site, it’s a lot faster. If there is not, then most likely we will lose the best opportunity to put out the fire,” one firefighter said. He added that in some cases he could see a fire in the distance, getting stronger, while he was stuck behind cars that wouldn’t get out of his way. 

The noodle restaurant was located on “Ghost Street” (Gui Jie) in Beijing’s Dongzhimen area—a bustling hub of eateries. 

The failure for drivers to get out of the way in an emergency speaks to a basic lack of trust in the fabric of society, according to remarks by online commentators.

“In China the problem is exacerbated because when a police car, a fire truck, or an ambulance has its siren on, it does not necessarily mean that it is on duty. By crying wolf too many times, nobody will listen to them anymore,” a netizen wrote on Feb. 22, underneath the video.  “It shows that people’s morality is too poor. It might not be better by the next generation. I am sad for us.”