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Giving emergencies green light

Traffic signal study to consider prioritizing EMS vehicles, improving response times

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The City of Winnipeg will explore how fire trucks and ambulances could automatically trigger green traffic lights while rushing to answer emergency calls.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2022 (322 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The City of Winnipeg will explore how fire trucks and ambulances could automatically trigger green traffic lights while rushing to answer emergency calls.

The city is seeking a consultant to study the feasibility of an emergency vehicle pre-emption system, which would allow that automation when lights and sirens are activated.

Coun. Sherri Rollins, the head of council’s protection and community services committee, said the traffic light changes are critical to ensure the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service can maintain safe response times as the city grows.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The City of Winnipeg is seeking a consultant to study the feasibility of an emergency vehicle pre-emption system, which would automatically trigger green traffic lights when their lights and sirens are activated.

“It is such an important part of the master plan for (WFPS). If we can give the priority access for emergency vehicles, can we cut down on the capital costs of what is an expansionary (fire paramedic station) plan? … (Our) population needs potentially more stations, if it doesn’t work,” said Rollins.

The councillor noted these signal systems are expected to enhance the range of ambulances and fire trucks by allowing them to efficiently serve larger areas.

Coun. Markus Chambers, a member of the committee, also supports the idea.

“Anything that helps improve the safety or the outcome for individuals, especially with respect to heart attacks or strokes… is critical,” said Chambers.

A request for proposal notes WFPS answers about 16,000 fire rescue calls and 120,000 medical calls per year, about half of which require lights and sirens.

“In each of these responses, time is of the essence. As a result, the provincial highway traffic act allows emergency responders to exceed speed limits and traverse through intersections even if right-of-way is not indicated. This action can, and does, result in intersection collisions,” the document states.

While only about one in 1,000 lights-and-siren responses are estimated to result in collisions, all crashes delay response times and many cause thousands of dollars in damage, it adds.

A pre-emption system is expected to reduce the collision risk and speed up emergency responses.

But the city’s request for proposals notes signal cycle interruption can also delay other traffic, an effect it says has not been well studied.

The feasibility study would be expected to assess potential reductions in response times, collisions and damage costs from adding a signal pre-emption system, while gauging its likelihood of adding to traffic congestion.

The consultant would also assess whether emergency vehicle pre-emption should occur at all signal-controlled intersections or be limited to priority sites.

A final report is expected by Sept. 30.

WFPS spokesperson Erin Madden said it’s not clear how much the system for Winnipeg would cost. The feasibility study is expected to help determine whether the city can rely on some technology that’s already partly in place at its Transportation Management Centre, which could “substantially reduce” the price, said Madden, in an emailed statement.

The system would work by pre-empting the normal operation of traffic signals when an emergency vehicle approaches with its lights and sirens activated. Turning on the lights and sirens would automatically send the vehicle’s GPS location to a system at Winnipeg’s traffic control centre. That system would determine the intersection that needs to be adjusted and override normal light timings to trigger a green light.

In an email, a spokesperson for Mayor Brian Bowman said the mayor is happy to see the request for proposals move forward.

“Emergency vehicle pre-emption was certainly always a goal of the Transportation Management Centre and this is part of the process to see it come to fruition,” wrote spokesperson Jeremy Davis.

Once a system is implemented for fire trucks and ambulances, the city will explore potential options to extend it to police vehicles, Madden said.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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Updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 6:06 AM CDT: Adds deck

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