Foley Fire Department implementing traffic signal preemption system

By Jessica Vaughn
Posted 8/23/18

FOLEY – Foley council approved the Foley Fire Department to begin implementing a traffic signal preemption system on Aug. 20. The Foley Fire Department has been researching for many years ways to …

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Foley Fire Department implementing traffic signal preemption system

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FOLEY – Foley council approved the Foley Fire Department to begin implementing a traffic signal preemption system on Aug. 20. The Foley Fire Department has been researching for many years ways to improve their response times in the safest way possible, and hopes the new system will be the answer they have been seeking.

“I started looking several years ago at what we might be able to do as traffic continued to increase, not knowing that it was going to increase to the level it did this year, to try to help us negotiate heavy traffic to improve response times,” said Fire Chief Joey Darby. “Obviously as we go down Highway 59, especially heading south, we get bottlenecked in a lot of areas. And the further south we get to the point we get to a median, there’s really nowhere for us to go, we get to a point where we literally have to stop and wait for traffic to clear which can sometimes take a considerable amount of time.”

Darby researched technology in an attempt to find a system that would be ideal for this area, but found many to be ineffective. In some cases the systems were unsafe due to manual controls, and oftentimes would have the opposite effect and disrupt traffic rather than flowing it successfully. While meeting with new industries, Darby learned that Orange Beach and Gulf Shores were researching the same type of technology to help with the problem due to beach traffic, and the cities joined together. They put in for a SAPA bid, which was awarded to Alabama company Temple for their glance preemption system.

“So what this system does, and again it’s smart technology, is use three forms of communication that are installed both in the signal and in the firetrucks, and that way there’s redundancy,” said Darby. “The system is smart in that it knows based on communication between the two links if our vehicle is responding in emergency mode, lights and sirens on, it knows which direction we’re traveling, how fast we’re traveling, and then the only human factor here is based on the use of the turn signal, the system knows if the vehicle is going straight through the intersection or is going to turn in any direction.”

Based on the information, the system will then control the intersection, in most cases giving all red lights to lock the intersection and stop cross-traffic. The system will then start clearing certain lanes based on the firetruck’s approach and direction of travel. Being a smart system, it will reset once the firetruck has cleared the intersection while keeping traffic in a normal pattern.

“Many of you have probably seen it when we come through an intersection, traffic just is in every direction,” Darby said. “To get that traffic back flowing takes some time and is very unsafe, and obviously we don’t want to create further incidents just trying to get to where we’re going.”

The system is more cost effective than when Darby previously researched acquiring one, being approximately $50,000 for five intersections and five fire apparatuses. The proposed vehicles are four firetrucks and one ladder truck, and the five proposed intersections are Highway 98 and Highway 59, Highway 59 and Azalea Avenue, Highway 59 and Michigan Avenue, County Road 20 and Highway 59, and County Road 20 and the Beach Express.

“I think it’s worth a try,” Darby said. “Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have already implemented limited versions of this on just a couple of intersections and it has, according to them, already proven successful. I would love if this works to see that we start expanding as time and money allows, and more importantly, building this system into our specs for any upgrades to intersections in the future or additional intersections, that the system just becomes a component.”

The system will integrate were any intersections to be upgraded in the future, so though there would need to be adjustments the hardware would still be compatible. ALDOT has approved the system, and since partnering with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, the equipment will work on all systems, which Darby says is a plus as Foley works often with both cities. The system can also be configured in safe zones, such as outside the fire stations, so the firefighters will be able to perform maintenance and checks without fear of altering traffic flow.

Currently, only the fire department will be adapting this technology, as the system isn’t recommended for patrol cars or ambulances.

“You don’t want to disrupt the intersection that often,” said Darby. “They don’t recommend police cars or ambulances because their frequency is greater than ours. The signal has got to readjust and rest, and even the smartest system in the world will cause trouble if you confuse it that many times a day. Plus you have the advantage in a patrol car or SUV that you can navigate a lot better than we can. They can get around traffic where we just simply can’t get off road.”

The system is budgeted as a planned project, and the fire department has been approved to move forward with their plans to implement the system into five intersections and five fire apparatuses.