A motorist overtaking a fire engine going up a steep hill with its lights flashing and sirens on is just one example emergency services are having to deal with, a chief fire officer says.

Most motorists were well behaved but unfortunately in the wider Rotorua area district, "it's diabolical", Lake Okareka Rural Fire Force chief fire officer Phil Muldoon said.

His volunteer crew has had to give way to cars at roundabouts and cope with people who failed to pull over.

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But one of the worst incidences was on a hill.

"Going up a steep hill in a fire appliance is not that fast but they actually overtake fire appliances, even though the lights and sirens are on."

You always had to expect the unexpected, he said.

"It is dangerous and all of our drivers are fully trained and very much aware.

"Any time delay could be the difference between life and death.

"We have lights and sirens and a mighty loud air horn. But even that doesn't really help. You can be right behind a car, horn blaring, siren going, lights on and they are completely oblivious."

Emergency Services New Zealand Central Lakes area manager Jeff Maunder said in his experience ''it's hit and miss''.

"On some days, everybody pulls over and, on other days, nobody does.

"The law says you need to pull over and allow emergency vehicles to pass for red lights and it's disappointing. It is kind of what it is and hasn't changed over the years."

Rotorua police area prevention manager Inspector Stuart Nightingale said just a few seconds or minutes could make a significant difference when it came to attending a priority incident.

From time to time, attendance was delayed due to vehicles not pulling over to let emergency services through, although he acknowledged that may be because people were unsure of what to do.

''Generally speaking from a police perspective, drivers in the Rotorua area are good at pulling over or making space for police vehicles to pass when they have their sirens flashing.

"We remind motorists to use their rear vision mirrors, particularly if they have music on in their vehicle, so that they are aware if emergency service vehicles are behind them with their lights and sirens activated."

A St John spokeswoman said most members of the public co-operated when an emergency vehicle under lights and sirens was making its way to an incident.

St John introduced yellow ambulances back in 2013 for improved visibility and safety.

"Yellow vehicles are the most noticeable on the road, particularly in low light. Ambulance officers reported an improvement in the public noticing and giving way to St John vehicles as a result."

Pulling over
- Police understand it can be a bit alarming for motorists, but there is no need to be concerned.
- If this does happen to you we advise putting on your indicator so the emergency services vehicle can see you are intending to pull over, and then pull to the side as soon as it is safe for you to do so.
- Emergency Service vehicles have their lights and sirens activated whenever they need to attend a critical incident.
* Source NZ Police