MOTORISTS ignoring stop signals outside a fire and ambulance station are putting lives at risk, emergency chiefs warned yesterday.

Rescue crews leaving the station, in St Cuthbert's Way, Darlington, to respond to emergency call-outs are being delayed by motorists ignoring flashing red lights.

Les Matthias, senior divisional officer for the North-East Ambulance Service, said the situation was "an accident waiting to happen".

"It is going to cause a fatality if they keep doing this," he said.

"We have had numerous incidents where the traffic is apparently still going through the lights, even when they are on red."

He said heavy goods vehicle drivers were among the offenders.

"We reported one lorry driver to police after an incident on October 30. If they hit one of our vehicles that would be a fatality - there's no doubt about that," he said.

Mr Matthias said response times to emergency situations were being increased because of the delays.

"Every time drivers cross that red light they increase the time it takes our vehicles to get to an emergency. And seconds, not just minutes, cost lives," he said.

As emergency drivers leave the station they press an activation button which changes the lights to red for 45 seconds.

"That is ample time for our drivers to get out," said Mr Matthias.

"But people might not realise we are behind the fire station, so when they don't see a fire engine coming out maybe they think it is safe to go. It is not, and we really need to get that message across".

Les Greenwood, Assistant Divisional Officer for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said firefighters were taking drivers' details and telling the police.

"Police are ringing drivers and warning them," he said.

"Ninety nine per cent are stopping, but it is the one per cent who don't that worry us. People just need to be patient and wait for the red lights to stop flashing. Don't assume that if you have seen one emergency vehicle emerge there isn't more on the way."

The new road layout outside the station has been dogged by problems since it opened in September, including claims that a break in the central reservation to cut response times was not being used