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First Responders to Control Traffic Lights During Emergencies

The North Carolina DOT has agreed to purchase and install pre-emptive equipment for fire and EMS vehicles to take control of operating specific signals in Lenoir County, N.C.

(TNS) -- Lenoir County’s emergency crews are now equipped to halt traffic at certain intersections so they can safely pass through.

The Queen Street bridge replacement plan by the N.C. Department of Transportation started a conversation among city, county and state officials as to safety concerns about time that would be lost detouring around the construction area, Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said.

“NCDOT needed to replace the bridges on North Queen Street,” he said, leaving officials questioning how to provide emergency services with the road blocked off, or at least impeded, by the construction.

At a cost of approximately $525,000 to NCDOT, the state agency agreed to purchase and install preemptive equipment for fire and EMS vehicles to take control of operating specific signals in the city. Of that cost, about $105,000 was for the equipment and the remainder for installation, said Aaron Bullard, senior assistant district engineer in NCDOT’s Kinston office.

“The city had very little investment in it,” Kinston Public Safety Director Bill Johnson said.

According to, “The Opticom GPS System uses Global Positioning Satellite technology along with secure radio communications to gain preemption or priority at equipped intersections. The result is safer, more efficient traffic flow for both emergency service and transit vehicles.”

Murphy said the small box on fire trucks and ambulances, as well as equipment installed on specific traffic lights, will allow the crews to change any red lights they come across to green.

Lenoir County Emergency Management Director Roger Dail said the box on the vehicle emits a signal which the device on the traffic light can read.

When the emergency sirens are turned on and the vehicle approaches within about 1,500 feet of an equipped traffic light, the traffic signals will change or remain green for the emergency vehicle, Dail said.

“When you cut your lights and sirens on when you’re responding to emergency traffic somewhere,” he said, “it automatically cuts that box on.”

Dail said all the ambulances and two quick response vehicles in the county are equipped with the GPS system. Johnson said all the fire trucks have the equipment on them, as well.

Instead of emergency vehicles heading out of Kinston straight down Queen Street to the southern and southwest areas of the city and county or into Kinston towards the hospital from those areas, emergency vehicles will have to reroute along the Skinners Bypass detour.

“We’re probably going to add an extra five to six, seven minutes onto our response time either way,” Dail said, “and we’re hoping with these Opticoms we cut that down by half – at least that much.”

“What’s great about this program,” Murphy said, “is that although the bridge replacement is a temporary hurdle, the pre-emptive equipment will stay even after construction is complete.”

Johnson said he’s planning on getting the law enforcement vehicles equipped, as well.

“At very busy intersections,” he said, “… the motoring public doesn’t have the option to pull over.”

Johnson continued, “Thank goodness it’s been quite a while since we’ve had any wrecks involving emergency vehicles, but we certainly want to prevent them.”

He said all the traffic signals from Vernon Avenue along Queen Street and Skinners Bypass to U.S. 70 and the section of U.S. 70 from Hill Farm Road near Walmart to Lenoir Community College are ready to stop traffic in an emergency.

“I’ve got to give it to DOT,” Dail said, “for trying to work with us through to make this stuff happen.”

©2015 The Free Press (Kinston, N.C.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.