Emergency Response Signal System Urged

Fire departments could respond more quickly to emergency calls if they installed special devices that switch traffic signals to red when fire engines and ambulances speed through intersections, according to an Orange County Grand Jury report released Tuesday.

Several cities including Huntington Beach and Newport Beach already use the system, which emergency vehicles activate by flashing strobe lights that turn signals red in three directions, giving firetrucks the only green light.

But many other cities don’t have the devices, and there are no countywide standards to make sure all sensors are compatible.

Fire departments and other agencies talked about a countywide signal system nearly a decade ago, but the grand jury found that most of those plans have been put on hold or abandoned.


The grand jury recommends that the Orange County Fire Authority convene a summit of all fire chiefs in the county to create a master plan. It also suggested that installation of new signal sensors be paid for with revenue from Measure M, the half-cent transportation sales tax.

A 1991 study by the authority found that installing sensors at 230 heavily traveled intersections would cost about $2.1 million.

Capt. Scott Brown said the authority had decided against spending money from its firefighting funds to install the devices. Rather, the agency has left it up to individual cities to fund the signal systems if they chose.

“We see this as a benefit. It makes for a safer environment when you can have fire engines get to an emergency more quickly,” Brown said. “Our position is that we should not shoulder the costs.”


The grand jury did not indicate how much response times are reduced with the devises. But fire departments elsewhere in the state have estimated retimes were cut 15% to 25%.