San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 24th, 2010
Council turns back GPS system for fire trucks

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San Marcos Fire Department Assistant Chief Len Nored addresses the San Marcos City Council at last week’s meeting. Photo by Andy Sevilla.

By ANDY SEVILLA
Associate Editor

In a medical emergency, one minute can save a life.

That’s exactly what San Marcos Fire Department (SMFD) Assistant Chief Len Nored argued before the San Marcos City Council last week as he made a bid for the purchase of a GPS Opticom Preemption System to ensure that emergency vehicles get first priority at street intersections.

But councilmembers prevailed with its arguments and its votes, turning back the purchase of more than $300,000 by a 6-1 vote, with only Councilmember Kim Porterfield dissenting.

The item originally was in last week’s consent agenda before Councilmember Ryan Thomason pulled it for discussion after he was “just not sold on it.” Thomason said he spoke with “friends” in the fire department who assured him that they didn’t request the device, but city staff said the fire department wanted it.

San Marcos Assistant Director of Public Services Sabas Avila said the request came from the SMFD in an effort to reduce response times and avoid collisions.

Nored said the device “hadn’t been warranted until now,” but added that population growth in San Marcos makes the item desirable. Nored said the preemption system will “provide safer avenue of response and ability to get where we’re going quicker. It will be a benefit to our citizens.”

The device provides emergency vehicles with first priority on the street by changing street lights automatically in response to the turn signals of fire trucks. Nored said the device kicks in as soon as the flashers are turned on from the fire station. Street lights would react in advance of a fire truck’s arrival by reading emergency vehicle turn signals.

Councilmember John Thomaides pressed city staff as to the timing of the matter coming before council. Thomaides said most projects remain on the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) wish list for several years before gaining approval, yet city staff sought the green light for this project in its first year on the CIP list. Avila confirmed that the matter was first approved for the 2010 CIP.

San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said that though “one minute does save a life,” she has a problem with the matter being approved in its first year on the CIP, especially since the a recent city-wide street light synchronization project can address the matter.

Thomaides also acknowledged that every minute counts in emergency situations, but questioned whether collision safety is a a factor for emergency vehicles in San Marcos.

“To my knowledge we’ve not had one (collision) in the last couple of years,” Nored answered to Thomaides’ question of whether emergency vehicles have collided with other emergency vehicles or regular drivers at intersections.

Avila cited a federal highway report that sad response times are cut by up to 20 percent with the preemption device. Nored said those figures translate to about one minute reduction in response time for SMFD, which usually averages to about five minutes.

Councilmember Chris Jones alluded to the recent street light synchronization and asked if that project could be used to change street lights, thereby providing the same outcome as the preemption system. Avila said the street light synchronization would provide the same outcome, if the city put an employee at the switch at all times. With the current light synchronization system, street lights can be changed from city hall or any other municipal building.

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