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.


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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