Calif. city to buy technology to improve response times

Satellites, new technology will ensure responders see more green lights on way to emergencies


By Arlene Martinez
The Ventura County Star

VENTURA, Calif. — The call comes in, frantic. Ventura city firefighters fly into action. In seconds they're ready. Sirens blazing, they take off down Main Street or Victoria Avenue or Telegraph Road... and stop at a red light.

They go a bit more and stop again — more red lights.

Meanwhile, a man waits for medical attention, and a house keeps burning.

For emergency responders, such scenarios are frequent. City officials, however, hope satellites and new technology will ensure firefighters see more green lights on the way to emergencies, reducing response times.

The Ventura City Council on Monday night approved spending $500,000 to buy and install a system at 75 intersections in the city.

"This system doesn't replace well-placed fire personnel and stations," Fire Chief Kevin Rennie said. "It only assists us in getting there." Known as Emergency Vehicle Preemption technology, the devices are put on traffic signals, firetrucks and other apparatus.

The traffic signals can then read when the emergency vehicles are coming and switch to green to accommodate them. Cross traffic is stopped until the emergency vehicles pass, according to an administrative report prepared by Rennie and city Public Works Director Rick Raives.

For the past two years, the Fire Department has been using the system on Victoria between Telegraph and Ralston Street and on Main between Mills and Telephone roads. The equipment was on loan from two companies. For the purchase, fire officials chose the Opticom system offered by Global Traffic Technologies LLC, based in St. Paul, Minn. Chino-based DDL Traffic Inc. will install the equipment.

The first phase of installation will cost $350,000 and place the equipment at the 50 highest-priority intersections.

Phase 2 will cost $150,000 and put the equipment at 25 more locations. The money will come from the city's Fire Facility and Equipment Mitigation Fee account, officials said.

The city hopes to install the devices at each of its 138 intersections but would need more money.

Despite having the system, emergency responders will continue slowing through intersections and checking each direction carefully, Rennie said.

"Just because they have a green light doesn't mean they're going to fly through the intersection," he said.

The city has long said it needs seven fire stations to provide adequate coverage. Officials plan on building the seventh in the Ventura Harbor area, using money from developers' fees if what's known as the Sondermann Ring project gets built.

Mayor Mike Tracy asked whether that money could cover some of the Emergency Vehicle Preemption costs if the seventh stationis not built. The council agreed to make that part of the motion.

Copyright 2012 Ventura County Star
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