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December 19, 2014

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City/County Q&A:

Signals point toward private ambulances getting stoplight-changing devices

Image

Christopher DeVargas

An ambulance rushes down Las Vegas Blvd. early New Year’s Day, 2010.

Who knew the Opticom, a device that can change a stoplight from red to green to allow emergency vehicles to get through an intersection more safely, would cause such a stir?

Last week the Sun wrote that Las Vegas Councilman Bob Beers and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak had asked their respective government staffs to draft an ordinance to allow private ambulances the right to use the devices.

Currently, only ambulances operated by fire departments have use of the device.

Beers said he came to the decision after an accident in early September, when a MedicWest ambulance trying to sneak through an intersection was struck by a pickup truck. The patient being transported by the ambulance later died at the hospital.

Why is this causing a big stir?

It turns out that neither the city nor the county needs to enact a new law; state law already gives private ambulances the right to use the devices.

Then why isn’t AMR/MedicWest using them already?

Because the company that makes Opticom isn’t willing to sell them to the private companies without written permission.

Permission from whom?

Opticom wants written permission from the fire department, Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, elected officials and government traffic departments.

Why?

Rick Masse, who for three decades has sold and installed traffic signal pre-emption devices, including many in the Las Vegas Valley, said companies like Opticom simply do not sell to any private business without authority from local governmental agencies. It’s not a liability issue, he added; it’s because there are laws against private entities using the devices.

“They just want to make sure the city or county is authorizing use by the private ambulance,” Masse said.

What will the county do then?

A county attorney already has written a draft amendment to the county code that reads:

“The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle may … utilize a signal prioritization device or signal pre-emption device, as those terms are defined” in state law.

Do the devices really make it safer for ambulances?

Global Traffic Technologies, which makes Opticom, claims the devices reduce intersection crash rates by 70 percent and improve response times by 25 percent.

And do they work on all intersections?

Only if the traffic lights at an intersection have a receiver installed. Typically, receivers are installed only at the busiest intersections.

How much are the devices installed in vehicles?

Masse said depending on the make and model, they can range from $700 to $1,000 each.

•••

Businesses are ever altering and adding to the nightscape of Downtown Las Vegas.

Something interesting coming downtown way?

There is. It’s called Cycle Pub tours and the Las Vegas City Council is likely to approve a year-long permit for the contraption – as described it sounds something like the Wonka Mobile. The business is on the council’s consent agenda of Tuesday’s meeting.

Cycle Pub tours sounds like a bicycle. Is that what this is?

Not really. It’s more like a tandem bike/moving bar for eight or 10 people People are seated facing each other and a center bar. They peddle as they sit. There’s a canopy overhead and four wheels underneath. One person steers. While no alcohol is served, the Cycle Pub makes pit stops at bars along the route.

They already operate in Bend, Ore., and Reno.

“It’s wild looking,” said Councilman Bob Coffin. “A self-propelled bar on wheels … everybody pitches in by peddling. It’s unique. I hope it’s safe.”

When and where would it operate?

Bicycle Pub LLC is seeking a special event permit to operate daily from noon to 2 a.m., from Nov. 1 through Oct. 31, 2013.

A map in agenda backup material shows a route beginning at Third Street and Ogden Avenue, going south to Charleston and Casino Center boulevards, then back north to the starting point.

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