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Standing by their fire department

The funding of Rocky Mount’s traffic preemption systems shows how communities can offer support to their local departments

Editor’s note: With LODDs spurring a Va. town to get emergency traffic light controls, check out our Editorial Advisor Chief Adam K. Thiel’s thoughts below.

I never really understood the true value of traffic preemption systems until I worked in an Arizona jurisdiction where every intersection, and emergency vehicle, was equipped with a traffic preemption device.

It was amazing how smoothly (most of the time) and safely our first responders (fire, police, and EMS) moved through the streets when responding to calls, even during peak traffic times.

The installation of such a system in Rocky Mount, Va., less than a year after the tragic crash in which Chief Posey Dillon and Firefighter Danny Altice were killed, is a testament to the fact that sometimes (often, actually) it takes a tragedy to spur fundamental change.

But that’s not the only thing worth noting in this story.

Funding for the installation of Rocky Mount’s system is coming from several sources: private donors (local businessmen), local government, and the state department of transportation.

While it’s not a big town, the “Lights for Life” fundraiser provided $150,000 to help defray the cost of installing traffic preemption devices on signals and vehicles; that’s a substantial donation, anywhere.

I believe that our communities, if they truly understand our capabilities and limitations, will stand behind their fire departments. It’s incumbent on all of us, from firefighters to chief officers, to make sure our citizens have good information about what we can, and can’t, accomplish with our given resources.

Hopefully, these efforts will result in community action to address problems before tragedy strikes.

Adam K. Thiel is the fire commissioner and director of the Office of Emergency Management in the city of Philadelphia. Thiel previously served as a fire chief in the National Capital Region and as a state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thiel’s operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.