Fire chiefs hail ‘life-saving’ GPS that turns traffic lights to green

FIRE chiefs in West Yorkshire have claimed lives could be saved through the use of satellite technology that is shaving vital minutes off emergency response times.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is the first in the country to implement the Green Wave system, which it hopes to roll out across the county following a successful pilot project in Leeds.

The scheme uses GPS technology fitted in fire appliances to turn traffic lights automatically from red to green as the vehicles approach.

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After being piloted at one Leeds station last year, the system is now being used by crews at two others, with a view to it being introduced at stations throughout West Yorkshire.

Assistant Chief Officer Craig McIntosh said: “This technology will allow firefighters having to negotiate some of the busier junctions to reach emergencies quicker, saving lives and property.”

Although fire appliances are legally allowed to drive through red lights with caution, the fire service admitted it can be hazardous for crews and other motorists, as well as lengthening journey times.

Under the Green Wave system, the GPS technology activates when the fire appliance’s blue lights are switched on.

As they approach key traffic light-controlled locations, a priority call is sent to the Leeds traffic light control system.

The sophisticated system predicts and monitors the arrival of fire appliances at various signals along a route.

Computers then alert the traffic signals in order that they turn green early enough to clear any existing queue and cancel only when the appliance has gone through.

Developed by Leeds City Council traffic light engineers two years ago to give buses priority over other traffic, the technology is now incorporated in more than 150 traffic signals in West Yorkshire.

Officers from the brigade said that it was possible to give fire appliances much greater priority than buses because they were on the roads less frequently, and the existence of the technology made it relatively cheap to adopt.

During a pilot on Hunslet’s two fire appliances last year, journey times were reduced by an average of 14 per cent and in some cases by as much as 63 per cent.

Leeds fire station in Kirkstall Road and Gipton fire station are now using the system.

Mr McIntosh added: “The Green Wave system means a safer and faster journey for firefighters en route to emergencies.

“It also assists other drivers at traffic lights, who are well known to be unpredictable when faced with an emergency vehicle using blue lights, by allowing the traffic to continue rather than back up. The increase in traffic on the roads in recent years can lead to an increase in our response times at busy times of the day.”

Leeds City Council’s executive member for development and economy, Coun Richard Lewis, added: “Leeds City Council developed the technology and put it into practice on behalf of Metro to improve bus journey times across authorities in West Yorkshire.

“Now the same technology is benefiting the fire service, it is great to see the computer system used to its full potential.”

News of the Green Wave scheme came as West and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authorities announced that French company Systel had been awarded the £3m contract for a new joint command and control system.

Members of the fire authorities say the state-of-the-art technology to receive 999 calls and mobilise emergency vehicles will be fully operational by 2014 and provide annual maintenance savings of £400,000.

In a statement joint chairs, Coun Jim Andrews and Coun Mehboob Khan, said: “We are getting a high quality new system to handle 999 calls and dispatch fire engines, at very little cost to local taxpayers.”

Two years ago a £13m regional fire control centre in Wakefield was axed without ever being used following a string of IT problems.