Smithtown Looks to Reduce First Responders' Response Time

Town receives federal grant to install GPS-activated signals that will have traffic signals react to ambulances, fire trucks.

Smithtown officials are looking to expand a system that can potentially reduce first responders response time to accidents and fires. 

The Town of Smithtown has received a $500,000 grant to expand its emergency traffic signal preemption system to an additional 56 intersections throughout the town. A traffic preemption system reacts to first responders' vehicles to interrupt traffic lights, and change them to favor the direction of oncoming ambulances or fire trucks.

Mitchell Crowley, Smithtown's traffic safety director, said the town has approximately 152 traffic signals, of which 65 have optical preemption devices that work on infrared. The town will use the federal grant money to install updated GPS-activated preemption system in an additional 56 intersections, doubling its existing network. 

"The GPS gives you an improved response time and it doesn't need a line of sight to work," Crowley said.

The GPS-activated system is also an upgrade in that it can determine whether or not an ambulance or fire truck will be going straight or turning, and adjust the traffic signal appropriately, where the existing optical system does not. 

Under the federal grant, Smithtown officials will be providing all fire districts and ambulance corps with dual emitters that can interact with both the infrared and incoming GPS-activated preemption systems. Overall, more than 57 vehicles will be outfitted according to Crowley. 

Smithtown town board members took the first step of approving a $37,800 contract hiring engineering firm Nelson & Pope, based in Melville, to design the outlaw of where the devices will be installed and map out the intersections at the Jan. 24 board meeting. 

The design of the pre-emption system must be approved by the federal government before construction can begin. Crowley said the town will look to its neighbor, Brookhaven, as an example as they installed a similar system over the past year.

"We are looking to use Brookhaven as a road map to follow. We are different as we are smaller and don't have the money they had," he said. 

The traffic safety director said with any hope the GPS-activated system could be in place by the end of the year. The town could then install devices as remaining intersections as budget allows. 

Christopher Hollentach February 01, 2013 at 06:42 PM
I think this is a fantastic idea on the surface. Nobody can argue that a device that gets emergency equipment to a scene faster is a positive tool. Back in the day when I was driving emergency equipment, we had to emphasize safety and use a lot of common sense when responding to an incident. What I have noticed since this device was introduced were emergency vehicles disregarding safety as they sped through intersections assuming that people knew the light was going to change against them almost instantaneously despite turning in their favor only ten seconds prior. Further, I have witnessed vehicles returning to their stations activating the device so they could get back sooner I would assume. But what is really disturbing is sitting at a light, watching it turn into a pre-emptive status and there is NO emergency vehicle in sight. That only means that someone in their official unmarked vehicle on their way home or another individual who happened to have this device in their private automobile activated it because his time was more valuable than everyone elses on the road that day.This is a device that should be installed. But people should take note of apparatus, ambulances, and official vehicles that abuse using it. Further, training programs should reinforce its use in chauffer school that each member should be required to take before getting behind a multi-ton piece of equipment that does not require a chauffers license for first responders but does for everyone else.


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