Emergency Responders: Traversing the city’s streets

By Austin Dave

Last update: Thursday, October 13th, 2016

Breaking through a rare moment of silence, the loudspeaker at County Fire Station 107 crackled to life.

“Engine 107, Squad 107, medical rescue, Wellhaven Street.”

A troupe of men dressed in blue broke away from various activities to make for the Canyon County station’s garage.

For the call, crews must inch out of the station, turning right on Soledad Canyon Road to orient toward the patient’s location.

An American Medical Response ambulance joins the engine and lightweight paramedic rig, only to be stopped by about a dozen vehicles pausing for the red signal at Solamint Road.

The 14-ton Engine 107 is unable to find a westbound path through the stopped cars, however, and comes to a dead stop – in the middle of an emergency call.

The remaining option is to cross into opposing traffic lanes.

But first, emergency responders must battle eastbound vehicles refusing to yield on the opposite side of the road.

The boisterous parade of strobe lights and sirens resumes after eight seconds with each of three responding vehicles jutting over the double yellow line and past the first of many red signals.

Because the emergency preemption technology doesn’t exist on Soledad Canyon Road, or any other street in Santa Clarita, no automated systems will clear a path for firefighters and paramedics.

As Santa Clarita grapples with its traffic issues, its neighbors to the south have implemented technology to aid first responders navigating gridlock conditions while en route to emergencies.

The same technology could be applied in Santa Clarita.

Technology assists

In an underground Cold War-era bunker originally designed to protect the bowels of City Hall against Soviet blasts, are the computers Los Angeles uses to part a sea of traffic for its emergency crews.

The systems adjusts signals to green at about 1,400 L.A. intersections to clear vehicles out of the path of the city’s fire department engines.

Sirens at Fire Station 70 in Northridge sounded for a medical rescue a few blocks away. Large bay doors rolled open and a haze of red and amber strobe lights flashed as crews departed.

As Engine 70 sped down the street, few cars were in its path. Technology had already cleared vehicles around the station ahead of the crew’s arrival.

The fire engine had rolled over a series of loop sensors embedded in the street and triggered the Signal Priority System designed and built by the Department of Transportation.

Like parting the Red Sea – computers in the bunker adjusted traffic signals ahead of the engine to green, clearing out any passenger vehicles in the 28,000 pound vehicle’s anticipated path.

Though the program called Traffic Signal Preemption exists in Santa Clarita solely for railroad crossings, however, it’s not available to emergency crews.

Hurdles

Santa Clarita’s Senior Traffic Engineer Andrew Yi confirmed the equipment is not on the city’s radar for current planning purposes and referenced a few hurdles that would hypothetically stand in the way.

“The biggest impact would be signal timing,” he said.

“When preemption comes, you lose traffic flow.”

While most Santa Clarita streets originate from a single cardinal direction, many curve and don’t follow a gridded system.

“During that time, you can cause more traffic delay for the general public,” Yi said.

Despite those concerns, the city’s engineer believes it’s possible to implement the system in Santa Clarita – a request which would have to come from the Los Angeles County Fire Department first.

“My belief is out of most of the advantages, it decreases response time for emergency vehicles,” Yi said of the technology.

“I don’t think it’s hard to implement,” Yi said. “It’s basically a cost issue and whether or not it’s going to be a real benefit to the city.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Emergency Responders: Traversing the city’s streets

Santa Clarita Senior Traffic Engineer Andrew Yi demonstrates the city's signal synchronization system in this May 2016 photo. Austin Dave/The Signal

Breaking through a rare moment of silence, the loudspeaker at County Fire Station 107 crackled to life.

“Engine 107, Squad 107, medical rescue, Wellhaven Street.”

A troupe of men dressed in blue broke away from various activities to make for the Canyon County station’s garage.

For the call, crews must inch out of the station, turning right on Soledad Canyon Road to orient toward the patient’s location.

An American Medical Response ambulance joins the engine and lightweight paramedic rig, only to be stopped by about a dozen vehicles pausing for the red signal at Solamint Road.

The 14-ton Engine 107 is unable to find a westbound path through the stopped cars, however, and comes to a dead stop – in the middle of an emergency call.

The remaining option is to cross into opposing traffic lanes.

But first, emergency responders must battle eastbound vehicles refusing to yield on the opposite side of the road.

The boisterous parade of strobe lights and sirens resumes after eight seconds with each of three responding vehicles jutting over the double yellow line and past the first of many red signals.

Because the emergency preemption technology doesn’t exist on Soledad Canyon Road, or any other street in Santa Clarita, no automated systems will clear a path for firefighters and paramedics.

As Santa Clarita grapples with its traffic issues, its neighbors to the south have implemented technology to aid first responders navigating gridlock conditions while en route to emergencies.

The same technology could be applied in Santa Clarita.

Technology assists

In an underground Cold War-era bunker originally designed to protect the bowels of City Hall against Soviet blasts, are the computers Los Angeles uses to part a sea of traffic for its emergency crews.

The systems adjusts signals to green at about 1,400 L.A. intersections to clear vehicles out of the path of the city’s fire department engines.

Sirens at Fire Station 70 in Northridge sounded for a medical rescue a few blocks away. Large bay doors rolled open and a haze of red and amber strobe lights flashed as crews departed.

As Engine 70 sped down the street, few cars were in its path. Technology had already cleared vehicles around the station ahead of the crew’s arrival.

The fire engine had rolled over a series of loop sensors embedded in the street and triggered the Signal Priority System designed and built by the Department of Transportation.

Like parting the Red Sea – computers in the bunker adjusted traffic signals ahead of the engine to green, clearing out any passenger vehicles in the 28,000 pound vehicle’s anticipated path.

Though the program called Traffic Signal Preemption exists in Santa Clarita solely for railroad crossings, however, it’s not available to emergency crews.

Hurdles

Santa Clarita’s Senior Traffic Engineer Andrew Yi confirmed the equipment is not on the city’s radar for current planning purposes and referenced a few hurdles that would hypothetically stand in the way.

“The biggest impact would be signal timing,” he said.

“When preemption comes, you lose traffic flow.”

While most Santa Clarita streets originate from a single cardinal direction, many curve and don’t follow a gridded system.

“During that time, you can cause more traffic delay for the general public,” Yi said.

Despite those concerns, the city’s engineer believes it’s possible to implement the system in Santa Clarita – a request which would have to come from the Los Angeles County Fire Department first.

“My belief is out of most of the advantages, it decreases response time for emergency vehicles,” Yi said of the technology.

“I don’t think it’s hard to implement,” Yi said. “It’s basically a cost issue and whether or not it’s going to be a real benefit to the city.”

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Austin Dave

Austin Dave

Austin Dave is an award-winning multimedia journalist. He heads The Signal's video news operations while reporting on the Santa Clarita Valley's most impacting topics.

  • How about LES LIGHTS AND LESS BULIDING OF NEW HOMES that way we don’t so many people cramming our roads

  • The City of Santa Clarita has spent millions of dollars on a traffic monitoring and traffic light control system. Cameras are in place at major intersections and a command post is located on the third floor at City Hall.

    What about staffing the system and providing communication between first responders and the command post? In that way, traffic command operators could clear major intersections during emergencies when requested by first responders.

    Sometimes a solution, lies hiding within already available capabilities.

  • I had that happen and after a moments thought, safely ran the red light and pulled over.

    Was that the proper response?

  • How about less medians down every single major thoroughfare in SCV. Can’t tell you how many times FD and ambulances have to shut down their code 3 equipment at some intersections because they can’t get through or go over the median.

    A friend of mine in the FD says they actually track when they have to turn off their lights and siren when they can’t get through and have to wait for a green light. Supposedly FD shows up to every meeting when new medians are suggested to say no to them, but the city continues to install them.

    I guess shrubs and trees in the middle of the street are more important than saving lives.

  • william saltzman

    The traffic is SCV isn’t all that bad. Just ask Mr. Yi!!

Austin Dave

Austin Dave

Austin Dave is an award-winning multimedia journalist. He heads The Signal's video news operations while reporting on the Santa Clarita Valley's most impacting topics.