by: Andy Cordan
COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WKRN) — When it comes to saving lives, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.
Columbia Fire & Rescue is now one of the first agencies in the state using preemptive GPS traffic technology to increase the odds of saving lives by shaving precious seconds off emergency calls.
The premise is simple. When firefighters activate emergency equipment in trucks that have been equipped with the GPS technology, the system automatically sends a signal to traffic signals, telling them the truck is coming and to turn the light from red to green.
“It catches us when we are half a mile out,” said Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Finley. “It realizes we are close, and when we are 45 seconds out it will change that light from red to green.”
Finley is a 22-year veteran who remembers when getting an emergency vehicle through a crowded intersection would be dangerous.
“It was dangerous for the motoring public, and it’s dangerous for us as well,” Finley said.
Finley took News 2 out on a test drive with the help of members of the Columbia Public Works Department.
As we traveled to one of the 29 intersections equipped with the technology, Finley told us that all drivers are instructed to slow down and check all directions just in case a distracted motorist is not paying attention.
“Our professional apparatus operators still slow down and make sure the intersection is safe for us to go through,” Finley said.
So far, 29 of 48 intersections around the city have been equipped with the GPS technology.
“It does give the other drivers plenty of time, a 45-second window, for the light to flip, green for us and red for them,” Finley said.
Finley told News 2 that the technology will most assuredly save lives.
“Time matters, right,” Finley said. “So, you are always, like in a trauma, dealing with that golden hour, you want to get them to a trauma center in that golden hour, so we are saving minutes when seconds count.”
Each unit costs approximately $5,000.
So far, 10 of 16 fire trucks have been equipped. Fire officials hope all trucks and intersections will be activated in the near future.
So far, the system is only set up for Fire & Rescue, not police or ambulances.
Finley says the GPS system also notifies public works officials if there is damage or problems with the traffic lights.