New GPS system gives fire engines green light

West Yorkshire fire engines first in UK to benefit

Fire engines in West Yorkshire are benefiting from faster response times and safer journeys thanks to pioneering new GPS technology.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service is the first emergency service in the UK to use the ‘Green Wave’ traffic light recognition system, which it is hoped will save lives.

A GPS positioning system has been installed on fire engines in Leeds, which activates when the fire engine’s emergency blue lights are switched on. When approaching key traffic light locations, the system sends a priority call to the Leeds Traffic Light Control System. Ground-breaking technology is used to predict and monitor the arrival of the fire engine at various signals along a route. Computers then alert the traffic signals so that they turn to green early enough to clear any existing queue and cancel only when the fire appliance has gone through.

Although by law fire engines can proceed through red lights with caution, it can be difficult for both the firefighters and other motorists, and naturally slows the fire engine down as it negotiates traffic safely. Sometimes the fire engine cannot reach the lights because of queuing traffic and it has to slow down in order to pass through a red light safely.

The ‘Green Wave’ scheme was piloted on Hunslet’s two fire engines last year and has now since been installed at Leeds Fire Station in Kirkstall Road and Gipton, with a view to being rolled out across West Yorkshire in the future. It operates at just the busiest junctions in the city, where it is believed it will make a difference. Testing revealed it achieved an average of 14 per cent reduction in journey times across all junctions, with some journeys reduced by as much as 63 per cent. It has a 98 per cent reliability rate.

The GPS technology, combined with a unique priority logic within the Leeds Traffic Computer, was developed by Leeds City Council traffic light engineers a couple of years ago as part of the West Yorkshire METRO bus information and priority scheme. It has been used with considerable success at over 150 traffic signals in West Yorkshire. Buses call for priority and signal timings are adjusted to benefit buses (and afterwards compensate for cars). Because fire engines are relatively infrequent, it is possible to give them a much greater degree of priority – and because lives are at stake it doesn’t matter if other traffic queues. As the technology was already in use, adapting it for West Yorkshire’s fire engines has been relatively cheap.

Assistant Chief Officer Craig McIntosh from West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “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. This technology will allow firefighters having to negotiate some of the busier junctions to reach emergencies quicker, saving lives and property. It will make the biggest difference to us at peak times.

“We are delighted to be the first emergency service in the UK to use this wonderful technology, which will enable us to provide a better service to the people of West Yorkshire.”

Vix UK has provided the technology to allow the system to operate. Vix UK Region Director, Peter Eccleson, said: “We are extremely pleased to have been involved in this project, providing the technology to increase safety for emergency services and road users alike. We are proud to say that this technology increases efficiency for the fire and rescue service whilst helping them to provide a better and faster response time, benefitting the general public.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, Executive Member for Development and Economy, said: “This is a fantastic example of partnership working producing first-rate results for the benefit of West Yorkshire. 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.”