New Technology Could Save Lives At Intersections

Everyone knows to pull over to the right for emergency vehicles. But some fire trucks are capable of controlling signal lights before they ever reach the intersection. Harris County is now in the process of installing a new GPS system that should make emergency traffic even safer. Bill Stamps tells us how it works.

When the call comes in from dispatch Fire Chief Fred Windish and his men race to their truck. Quickly they speed into the streets, knowing each second could be a matter of life or death.

“It does give an adrenaline rush. If anybody were to say that they don’t get an adrenaline rush by running emergency traffic I would say they’re telling a fib.”

But that adrenaline could be dangerous, if they’re not careful. Each year more firefighters die getting to or coming back from a fire than die in an actual fire.

“We need to get there as soon as we can but without taking unnecessary risk.”

And that’s why the new GPS based traffic control system is so important. Harris County will mount a device in fire trucks and ambulances that’s capable of sending a signal to traffic lights several blocks away.

“We know that our direction of travel will be so and so. The traffic signals will understand that automatically through software and hardware, so that we can have safe and expedient passage.”

Some city and county trucks are already capable of changing traffic lights using the old system. But it throws off the timing at the intersection for several minutes. The new GPS System won’t do that.

“We need to be there, because you’re having the worst day of your life. Whatever the case may be: if it’s a transformer that blew up in your backyard; if it’s a natural gas leak; if its just the smoke in your house and you can’t tell where its coming from. You’re having a bad day and our job is to get there and take care of you.”

So the next time you’re at a red light and you hear this: (siren of a fire truck). Take another look. That light might turn green sooner than you think.

Bill Stamps. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.