Troy upgrading equipment for faster paramedic calls

By: Brendan Losinski | Troy Times | Published September 23, 2021

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TROY — The city of Troy is updating a system that helps control traffic and reduce the response times for ambulances in the community.

This new system will be replacing an older infrared-based system known as Opticom that is used to change traffic signals to green in the direction that ambulances are traveling and to change the cross-traffic signals to red.

“The (old) system works by mounting an infrared emitter on the emergency vehicle, and there’s a receiver in the intersection that changes the lights as needed,” explained Troy Fire Chief Richard Riesterer. “We had it in most of the intersections in Troy, but the old system was outdated. It needs line of sight so the receiver can see the infrared signal. Now we are changing it from infrared to one that is GPS based.”

“It speeds up response times because it changes the lights from red to green, so we don’t have to fight traffic,” added Vince Waryas, the executive director of Alliance Mobile Health, which contracts with Troy for paramedic services. “That system is being replaced to a GPS-based system. They started upgrading the system about a year ago. Some of the city is on the old Opticom system and some of it is now on this new system.”

The first half of the system has been getting updated over the course of the last year, replacing the system at intersections north of Long Lake Road. This second half will cover all the intersections south of Long Lake Road.

Riesterer said the new GPS-based system is more reliable, works faster and returns traffic patterns back to normal after the emergency vehicle has cleared the intersection.

“It helps us maintain the traffic flow pattern,” he explained. “It allows for the emergency vehicles to slip through traffic without creating risks of accidents. If vehicles have a green light and cross traffic has a red light, that risk is far lower. Emergencies can maintain a constant speed on calls to get there faster. Plus, normal traffic can be restored faster because it is all computerized.”

Waryas said that speed and reliability in a system like this can literally mean the difference between life and death and can vastly reduce the chance for car accidents in intersections as ambulances race off to a call.

“It takes about three seconds to change a light to go from green to yellow, and another three seconds to change from yellow to red,” he said. “Depending on traffic conditions, you can still end up stopping and you still have to be careful when going through an intersection, especially if the light is changing rapidly or unexpectedly.”

Troy officials are hoping to have the entire switchover to the new system in the next six months.

“Now this new system is going through a computer system so it also can restore the traffic patterns to normal faster and resync it with the rest of the traffic patterns more efficiently,” said Riesterer. “We’re looking at this all being upgraded six months from now at the longest. Oakland County is good with changing these out since the county Road Commission has the control of the lights at intersections.”

Although the intersections are overseen by the county, the cost will belong to the city of Troy, since it will be used for its emergency vehicles.

“The city is paying for it,” said Riesterer. “It will cost $282,000 for this portion, which covers the north end of Troy. The other portion was everything south of Long Lake Road. That portion is already done. It cost $400,000. It has been getting installed over the last year. It was split in two parts, due to cost, mostly.”

Although the city says that the hardware in the intersections will be installed in six months, it could take longer for the proper equipment or software to be added to all the ambulances that service Troy.

“Our vehicles don’t have the new system yet,” Waryas said. “They did not give us any kind of rush to get the new equipment because they described it as a lengthy process to upgrade all of the intersections in Troy.”

Waryas did add that he and his organization are pleased to be able to use this type of system and is appreciative of Troy utilizing it.

“No other communities that we work with have this new GPS system. Not all agencies or paramedic organizations even use the old system,” he said. “Private agencies like us don’t usually get looped into this system, since it’s usually municipal groups that use them. We’re privileged in that perspective in that we are included.”