Liberty Township positions itself as regional emergency response leader
Liberty Township in Ohio is home to the US’s largest zoo, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. With more than 9,000 animal species, the zoo attracts more than 2.3 million visitors annually. The influx of citizens and visitors has created new opportunities for the area. It has also created new challenges and demands for the Liberty Township Fire Department (LTFD).
The LTFD includes two fire stations and serves citizens in a 34-square-mile area. It is fully integrated with its own Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Division. As a result, its 50-plus firefighters are specially cross-trained as paramedics. Most of them are certified in advanced rescue techniques and can respond to a wide range of emergencies.
Because they are responsible for first response and for the highest level of pre-hospital care, it is critical that crews reach the emergency scene as quickly as possible. Even though the LTFD took great pride in the level of service it provided, growing traffic volume slowed response times. Crews reached the scene within guidelines established by the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) only 23 per cent of the time. As a result, care was compromised.
One of Fire Chief Tim Jensen’s goals is accreditation. The LTFD needs to meet acceptable response times at least 90 per cent of the time to gain international accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. This would provide continuous improvement, enabling the department to enhance its progressive, high-quality emergency and preventative services.
After studying various methods to improve response times, the LTFD decided to install traffic signal preemption – technology that allows authorised vehicles to pass through traffic intersections swiftly and safely by giving them green lights as required. But first, they needed to find funding.
Veteran firefighter, Mickey Smith, took the lead in the grant writing process. “We’re battling fires that can double in size in only 30 seconds,” Smith says. “We must reach the scene as quickly as possible. By saving time, we can save lives.”
Smith had never written a federal grant, but found the Assistance to Firefighters Grant website invaluable. He also sought input from several sources within the department, as well as with representatives from a Global Traffic Technologies-authorised dealer in Columbus.
The LTFD initially considered infrared emergency vehicle preemption technology, which is reliable, durable and efficient – but it wasn’t the best option for the unique landscape of the area. Instead, it opted for a radio-based system incorporating GPS location data, which looked like it could help the LTFD improve response times significantly.
“This area’s arterial roads have multiple hills, blind corners and other line-of-sight issues that could minimize the effectiveness of infrared systems,” Smith says. With Opticom GPS, preemption can be activated at greater distances and is based on estimated time of arrival at the intersection. Plus, it uses highly secure radio communications, so it can accommodate even the most adverse environments in Liberty Township.
Department leaders, including Chief Jensen, wanted the LTFD to be a visionary and key contributor in mutual aid strategies in Delaware County and throughout Ohio. The LTFD can reach destinations much quicker – even in other communities with GPS priority signal control.
Liberty Township earned an operations and safety grant from AFG in excess of US$700,000, with more than $520,000 designated specifically for GPS preemption technology.
Liberty Township features 35 intersections. Every one of them – along with 18 emergency vehicles – was equipped with Opticom traffic signal priority control equipment. Because it created a dedicated path to each of the three medical/trauma centres within about 25 miles, the impact of GPS priority control was immediate.
“The results have been remarkable,” Smith says. “I believe we’ve saved several lives since implementation because we can reach the scene and the hospitals so much faster.
“The goal of every fire department and agency is to serve citizens. Mutual aid allows faster emergency response to more people in more locations. With Opticom GPS, we’re assured that we’re on the cutting edge of technology that allows emergency vehicles to pass through intersections quickly and more safely.”
Studies conducted by the LTFD support Smith’s observations. The LTFD compared response times for six months prior to GPS installation with response times for six months after implementation.
Average response times (compiled by the LTFD):
- Fire (pre-GPS): 7 minutes, 3 seconds
- Fire (with GPS): 4 minutes, 4 seconds (42 per cent reduction)
- EMS (pre-GPS): 6 minutes, 9 seconds
- EMS (with GPS): 3 minutes, 41 seconds (40 per cent reduction)
The success in Liberty Township is drawing attention. There are plans to implement emergency preemption in all jurisdictions in Delaware County. As part of the original GPS implementation, there are several intersections in nearby communities – including the City of Delaware and Orange Township – also equipped with Opticom equipment to ensure faster transport to the hospitals.
Delaware aims to emulate Liberty Township’s success and expand its existing emergency preemption system. In addition, the LTFD is positioned to move forward with international accreditation efforts.
“Emergency response is too important not to try to improve it,” said Smith. “The payoff is second-to-none for everybody in the community, from emergency personnel to the citizens.”
Written by Tim Hall, Market Development Director at Global Traffic Technologies. He is responsible for implementing GTT’s technical and business development strategy, identifying new business and technology opportunities, and maintaining key customer relationships for the traffic detection and preemption markets.