Manatee Herald

Fire officials lobby for high-tech lights


BY ERIN BRYCE


EAST MANATEE -- Fire officials want future traffic signals to change automatically when emergency vehicles need to get through intersections.

Braden River Fire Marshal Henry Sheffield said the Florida Department of Transportation is beginning a 10-year process to replace older traffic lights in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

He said he hopes the state will install signals that contain a remote control so traffic lights will automatically change for ambulances and firetrucks on their way to emergencies.

Last year, 16,000 ambulances and firetrucks were involved in accidents nationwide; 45 percent were at intersections. He said 23 emergency responders and 151 civilian drivers died in those accidents.

In the 18 years that Sheffield has worked at the Braden River Fire District, he said the district experienced three major accidents in which people were severely injured.

A remote signal would help prevent some of the crashes, he said.

The signal is in the overhead lights of firetrucks and ambulances. When the emergency vehicle turns on its overhead lights, a signal reaches the traffic light, causing it to change.

Sheffield addressed the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch AM early Monday. He asked the Rotarians to write to Manatee County commissioners asking them to help the state with the cost to add the feature to new traffic lights. He said he plans to travel to other organizations and ask the same thing.

"We need your support," he said. "We need your input to county officials."

Adding the remote feature to a traffic light costs about $8,000 per light, he said. That price tag will decrease if the county and state buy in bulk. A traffic light usually costs about $75,000.


Sarasota County already has installed two of the high- tech lights. They are at the corner of Bee Ridge and Cattlemen roads and at the corner of Fruitville Road and Honore Avenue, said Paul Dezzi, assistant fire chief for Sarasota County Fire Department.

"They work great," he said. "We're buying all of our ambulances with the system already in place."

The remote in the overhead lights of each response vehicle costs about $1,000 TO $1,500.

The traffic lights are used throughout Pinellas County, in Lakeland and in Orange County, Sheffield said.

He said he hopes the concept will be integrated in all of the state's traffic systems.

"We've been trying to get the word out," he said.