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Updated: Thursday, 16 Aug 2012, 7:09 PM EDT
Published : Thursday, 16 Aug 2012, 7:09 PM EDT
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - In the last six days, two Fort Wayne police officers were involved in crashes while they were responding with lights and sirens to a call. Those crashes prompted NewsChannel 15 to take another look at technology designed to prevent crashes with emergency responders.
In 2008, NewsChannel 15 did a story on The Eliminator, a crash prevention device developed in Fort Wayne by Collision Control Communications, Inc .
The Eliminator goes in an emergency response vehicle and when the responder is going to a call, the device uses FM radio waves to talk to another device installed on the traffic signals to turn the lights green.
Since 2008, Collision Control has upgraded the technology to include a smart, hands-free mode, so the device will automatically turn on when the lights and sirens go on and will stop preempting signals when the responder puts the vehicle in a gear other than drive or opens the door. The device will also alert the driver with audio cues in addition to visual cues. The box is also much smaller.
In addition to preempting traffic signals, The Eliminator communicates with other emergency vehicles that have a device to prevent them from colliding.
"It's worked flawlessly in Indianapolis for five years and in St. Louis for over a year," Dave Gross, the owner of Collision Control, said.
The Indianapolis Fire Department's had the Eliminator on the trucks at Station 13 in downtown and it controls some signals near the station. St. Louis installed the device after two fire trucks crashed while both responding to a call.
Gross said the St. Louis fire department installed his equipment on the two replacement fire trucks and re-ran the call. With the Eliminator, each truck was notified of the impending collision four-tenths of a mile before it would have happened.
The department is now working on a grant to outfit the rest of the fire apparatus and some traffic signals.
"This technology would have prevented [the Fort Wayne] collisions or at least would have given the emergency vehicles the green light way prior to arriving at the intersection," Gross said.
Police Chief Rusty York is familiar with Gross' product and one other similar preemption technology.
"Initially, it seems as though there's a lot of promise, but officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, still have to use all due caution at an intersection," York said. "Will it save it time? No. Will it prevent accidents? It's a possibility."
Gross doesn't disagree that the technology can't replace human judgment, but said it can give the responders an edge.
"It's a useful tool that will give you a green light instead of red. You don't have to use as much heads up and due regard when you've got a green light as when you have a red light," Gross said.
The Eliminator "talks to" a traffic signal a half-mile ahead and will make the cross traffic have a red light by the time the responder gets to the intersection. It can also prioritize right-of-way if two emergency vehicles are going to the same intersection from different directions. The device will let the driver know if the intersection is pending or is clear.
"That would be one more distraction for the officer as well. Basically, we'd still have to default to what we're doing now which is slowing down and stopping before we go through," York said. "I think there's a reason this technology isn't widespread."
Gross said he thinks 50-75 percent of cities have some preemption technology. York said he finds those numbers "hard to believe."
Fort Wayne City Councilman Tom Didier (R) has been a supporter of the technology for years.
"I thought it was a good idea in 2008," Didier said. "I thought it was a wonderful, ingenious idea that promotes safety at city intersections. You can't put enough emphasis on safety."
He invited Gross to a council meeting to talk about the technology, but it never progressed.
"They thought I showed favoritism, when I was just looking at safety issues. Politics aside, it comes down to safety," he said.
Didier would like to see a meeting with the mayor and other city officials to take another look at preemption technology.
If the city wanted to get the technology, he said the city would still go through a bidding process and wouldn't necessarily go with Gross' Eliminator. But, Gross said he's offered his device to the city to try for free.
"I just want an open discussion with decision makers. How many more collisions do I have to watch on TV before you'll let me give this to you for free," Gross said.
Didier thinks it's a good idea to try it out in a few intersections.
"This company is willing to put this in three or four intersections for free to give it a trial test. I think it would be an enormous help for the community as a whole," he said.
York said it's not that simple, saying the city's traffic signals aren't compatible with the technology.
"We'd have to switch out the controllers," York said. "And we have 500 squad cars. We would have to have the whole
fleet outfitted to test it."
York questioned if Gross would supply that many Eliminators. Gross didn't say how many devices would be included in his free offer, but said he's not out to make money off of Fort Wayne.
"If we could say this would definitely solve any issue, we'd be more compelled to take a more serious look at it, but there are a lot of questions left," York said.
Still, Gross maintains the technology has proven to cut response times by up to 20 percent in Indianapolis and makes the city safer.
"It protects the average motoring public by giving them a red light so the emergency vehicle has less of a chance of colliding with them if they stop and obey the traffic signal," Gross said.
Gross said it can cost about $4,000-7,000 dollars per intersection and $2,000-5,000 per emergency vehicle to fully install the system in a city. St. Louis should know how many devices it will get when the grant request comes back at the beginning of 2013.
Didier said he plans to set up a meeting to talk more, but didn't say when that might happen. York said he's always open to a discussion.
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