We all know the law, right?  You see the flashing lights of an approaching emergency vehicle, hear the sirens.  Whether it's a police squad, a fire engine, or an ambulance, you need to pull the vehicle you're driving over to the side of the road, stop, and let them pass by safely.  After all - they're responding to an emergency situation that quite often can be a life or death situation.

Some confusion arises sometimes in regards to what happens at intersections.  That green light might "say" you have the right of way, but the need to make way for the emergency response vehicle at the same time.

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What if there was a way to allow emergency vehicles like police squads, fire engines, and ambulances to take control of those intersection lights?  Well, there is and the City of Superior is looking into making this part of the operational procedure for the community.

Officials from the City of Superior's Public Works Department have been working with both the fire and the police department to come up with a plan.  According to an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall], the work that Public Works Director Todd Janigo, Fire Chief Scott Gordon, and Police Chief Nicholas Alexander have put together was presented to the Superior Public Safety Committee at a meeting on February 24.

The end result of the plan is that "all emergency vehicles in Superior would be able to disrupt the city's 21 traffic signals to clear intersections when responding to an emergency".  Superior Fire Chief Scott Gordon explains:

"What that means is when a police truck or fire truck approaches that signal, they capture the signal and hold it until they pass through it.  It's a huge advantage for police and fire, as you can possible imagine."

The mechanics of it all is that the approaching emergency vehicles interrupts the normal timing of the signal, in turn "providing a green light...so they can pass through".  Part of the city's current traffic signals are already equipped to do this.  "...[N]ine of the traffic signals in the city are...".

Superior Fire Hall Station 2 in Superior, WI
Nick Cooper - TSM Duluth

While there would be a cost to bring the remaining signals up to date (estimated at $167,000), the benefits and safety results would be significant.  Gordon offered "[i]t's not too often we can put a dollar amount on a risk management tool".

As of right now, any costs involved with a switch to a preemptable traffic signal system aren't funded.  But, city leaders say that it "could be included in the 2023 capital improvement budget if councilors approve implementing a preemption system".

Traffic signals in Duluth already operate this way.  Many emergency response officials in that city were surprised to learn  that Superior doesn't.

Detail of Flashing Red Siren Light on Roof of Emergency Vehicle

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