Last week, Dubuque City Council members agreed to refer to the city manager a request by a private ambulance service to access a system that allows emergency vehicles to alter traffic lights when transporting patients.
City Manager Mike Van Milligen said he would work out an agreement for use of the pre-emption system “to enhance the safety of the citizens of Dubuque.”
That agreement should allow Paramount Ambulance access to the system.
Prior to the meeting, Dubuque Fire Chief Rick Steines said he has no intention of granting Paramount such access.
“They’re a private company in direct competition with the city,” Steines points out.
That should not be a motivating factor.
If anything, that argument could go the other way: Government, in general, shouldn’t be competing with private business.
Besides, with city emergency vehicles on the receiving end of every 911 call in Dubuque, it’s hard to see Paramount as a threat to the livelihood of the city’s emergency services.
More importantly, if the safety of citizens is really the chief concern — and it should be — there can be no other conclusion than to give Paramount access to the pre-emption system.
First, there’s the potential impact to the patients themselves. If a citizen is in need of emergent care at a hospital, the ambulance transporting that person should be allowed every advantage to get the patient there as quickly and safely as possible.
Second, there’s the impact to every other driver on the road. No driver wants to get in the way of an ambulance in an emergency. But it’s not always obvious that a driver needs to yield the road.
A significant crash one year ago on U.S. 52 bears that out. A Paramount ambulance with emergency lights and siren activated tried to proceed through a red light at the intersection with U.S. 61/151, heading toward Twin Valley Drive in the Key West area. The ambulance was struck by two southbound vehicles, and the force of the impact pushed the vehicles into a fourth one stopped nearby. Two Paramount employees and the patient all suffered minor injuries, as well as four people in the other vehicles. And it could have been much worse.
This is exactly where Opticom access could have made a difference and safeguarded all those involved.
Now, that access should come with some hard rules: Paramount pays for the equipment. All drivers must be properly trained. Opticom should only be deployed in true patient emergencies when time is of the essence.
It could make a positive difference. Steines has acknowledged that Opticom not only gives emergency vehicles priority, but it also allows traffic at busy intersections to move out of the way.
To suggest that Paramount shouldn’t have such access because it competes with the City of Dubuque sounds like a decision motivated by money, not safety.
If the city’s priority is, in fact, to “enhance the safety of the citizens of Dubuque,” then allowing Paramount access to Opticom is the best way to make that happen.