Illinois Firefighters Pitching in on Signal Tech

An independent board of Springfield firefighters has agreed to pay $9,000 for the green-light technology to improve emergency response times.

by Crystal Thomas, The State Journal-Register / December 21, 2017
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(TNS) — An independent board made up of Springfield firefighters decided Wednesday to offer $9,000 toward a $105,000 system that would ensure firefighters will see all green traffic lights as they're driving on Veterans Parkway to emergency calls.

The amount offered by the Foreign Fire Insurance Board is less than the approximately $52,000 Springfield aldermen were hoping the board would pay for the traffic signal technology that involves putting GPS-based units on four fire rigs and several intersections along Veterans with the intent of speeding up response times.

Fire Chief Barry Helmerichs originally asked the Springfield City Council in November for the city to fund the whole $105,000, with hopes of getting the technology installed before the height of the holiday shopping season, which often brings traffic backups on Veterans Parkway. The council countered by asking if the Foreign Fire Insurance Board would pay for half.

Fire Capt. Tony Burton, the board's president, said the $9,000 it approved Wednesday would pay for the GPS units for the four fire department vehicles, leaving the cost of outfitting the intersections up to the city. Burton said city infrastructure wasn't within the board's guiding document on how to spend its money.

"We definitely want to get the program started because it helps with the response times," Burton said.

Money to foreign fire insurance boards in Illinois comes from out-of-state insurance companies, which pay a 2 percent tax on policies they sell in Illinois. The tax is collected by the Illinois Municipal League and redistributed back to local boards. Last month, the Springfield's board got a check for about $235,400 for its annual take.

The board usually has quarterly meetings where they consider expense requests, often funding supplies for the firehouses and equipment for the department. The seven-member board is appointed by Helmerichs, who, as the chief, automatically has a seat on the board, according to state law.

Burton said the board's $9,000 is dependent on the rest of the funds being supplied by the city council and has a deadline for the end of the fiscal year, which is Feb. 28.

Helmerichs said he would go back to the city council to ask for the other $96,000.

"I hope we would just move ahead," Helmerichs said. "The sooner, the better. There's congestion there year-round."

©2017 The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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