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New Tech Pilots Aim to Add Safety and Speed to Fire Trucks

The city of Quincy, Mass., is using Haas Alerts, PublicEye and an infrared light system to try to help fire trucks get to their destinations faster and with fewer conflicts with other drivers.

by Joe DiFazio, The Patriot Ledger / March 25, 2019

(TNS) — The city of Quincy, Mass.'s fire department is testing out a new device that could help drivers using navigational apps steer clear of firetrucks responding to an emergency, helping improve safety for both drivers and firefighters.

The device, a small black box about four inches tall and wide, sends out alerts to drivers about the locations of the trucks to drivers using a navigation app called Waze. The company that makes the device, Chicago-based Haas Alerts, hopes the alerts will eventually be incorporated into other navigational apps as well as heads-up driving displays in cars.

"People would be heading toward the emergency, unknowingly," Quincy Fire Deputy Chief Joe Jackson said. "This allows people to avoid it."

The department installed its first Haas Alerts device, which it is testing as part of a pilot program, on a city fire engine on Thursday. Jackson said that keeping people away from an emergency where fire crews are helps keep both first responders and drivers safe.

Haas Alert's chief operating officer, Noah Levens, said the company hopes its technology will help prevent collisions between cars and both emergency vehicles and individual first responders.

Last month the International Association of Fire Chiefs highlighted the risk of firefighters and emergency medical technicians being hit by cars while on the job.

"With distracted driving, drivers under the influence, along with road and weather conditions and related traffic, firefighters are more at risk now than ever before, and unfortunately, numerous recent crashes back that up," the organization's president, Dan Eggleston, said in a statement.

Quincy Fire Department's chief mechanic, Michael O'Connor, said he's been looking into the Haas device for about six months to make sure it doesn't interfere with other technology on the trucks.

"Anything we can do to make it safer for firefighters," O'Connor said.

Jackson said the initial device was free for the department. He said the department will look into adding it to other trucks as the pilot develops.

The Haas pilot is part of an increasingly technology-focused approach to emergencies for the Quincy Fire Department. The Haas device sits on the dashboard of the truck, feet away from another new gadget: an infrared light on top of the cab.

The infrared light, which is also part of a pilot program, allows fire and police vehicles to manipulate traffic lights along their path to an emergency. A similar system has existed in the city for years, but it only allowed emergency responders to change traffic lights in their line of sight. The new wireless technology operates over cellular networks, allowing them to communicate with traffic lights farther away and preempt any red lights that could slow their paths.

The Quincy Fire Department also added iPads to all their vehicles at the start of 2018 equipped with a program called PublicEye. The program interfaces with Google Maps and helps guide firefighters to emergencies, using satellite imagery to show them what buildings look like before they arrive. Firefighters can also use PublicEye to see where the hundreds of fire hydrants are in the city, replacing old paper maps.

"It's amazing how much technology there is on these trucks," Jackson said.

©2019 The Patriot Ledger, Quincy, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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