The fight between the San Francisco Fire Department and the autonomous vehicle industry — as well as the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which recently voted to expand AV service against the wishes of firefighters — ramped up with a recent report about an ambulance that was allegedly delayed by Cruise vehicles.
The incident report from August 14 was filed last week, and was picked up today by Forbes. On the night of August 14, SFPD officers and SFFD paramedics responded to the scene of a collision at 7th and Harrison streets in which a vehicle had struck and gravely injured a pedestrian. The report describes paramedics attending to the victim, who suffered "significant left lower extremity injuries requiring application of a tourniquet to control bleeding."
The paramedics say that the patient was "packaged for transport with life threatening injuries," but that their ambulance was prevented from leaving the scene due to two stalled Cruise vehicles that were blocking the only lane of egress.
"This delay, no matter how minimal, contributed to a poor [patient] outcome," they write. "In any significant traumatic event, time is of the essence... This [patient] was unfortunately pronounced dead in the [emergency room] 20-30 min after arrival."
They add, "The fact that Cruise autonomous vehicles continue to block ingress and egress to critical 911 calls is unacceptable."
That collision in SoMa happened three days after the PUC voted 3-1 in favor of granting unfettered expansion to both Cruise and Waymo to begin taking paid rides throughout San Francisco, at all hours. Days earlier, SFFD Chief Jeanine Nicholson and firefighters gave impassioned testimony to the PUC about incidents like these, and the fact that they were being expected to "babysit" AVs that stalled in the midst of emergency situations.
Within days, Cruise vehicle got into a strange, disruptive huddle in North Beach, blocking streets due to some communications glitch on the first night of Outside Lands weekend. And a week after the commission's vote, a woman was injured inside a Cruise vehicle when it allegedly failed to yield to a fire truck speeding to an emergency.
That incident led the California DMV to order Cruise to cut its fleet in San Francisco, for now, by half.
Cruise issued a statement to SFGATE in response to the latest SFFD incident report, pushing back on how it was characterized — though the explanation is not clear. "The ambulance behind the AV had a clear path to pass the AV as other vehicles, including another ambulance, proceeded to do," the Cruise spokesperson said.
Expect this, and other stories, to come up again as the AV companies continue to provide all-day taxi service, and as regulators and city leaders face more questions about their safety to be on the road.