STUART, Fla. — When there's an emergency, every second counts for first responders rushing to help. Sometimes, it can even make the difference between life or death.
Lately, because of the exponential growth on the Treasure Coast, and the traffic that comes with it, first responders in Martin County said they've had a harder time getting to emergencies quickly.
“We’ve seen a definite increase in traffic as more people have come to the area," Martin County Fire Rescue's Division Chief Christian Montoya said. “It's had a big effect on our ability to have to respond to emergencies."
According to the Regional Economic Analysis Project,over the past several decades, the county's population grew by nearly 500% up through 2021—and that's not including the boom we saw in the past two years.
“Its getting to be as big as Fort Lauderdale," Martin County resident Isaac Matheny said. "Yeah, we're growing.”
In response, Montoya said over the past year they've been installing new technology in traffic lights throughout the county, which are expected to help improve those response times and even prevent accidents.
The technology installs transmitters inside firetrucks, ambulances and other fire rescue vehicles that communicate with transmitters installed in traffic lights throughout the county.
"It sends a signal wirelessly to the light and tells it to turn green," Montoya said.
Montoya said the idea is to let the traffic lights know that the firetruck is coming, so the light can preemptively turn green to give first responders, and the traffic in front of them, the right of way. Everyone else would get a red light.
Montoya said all crews have to do is flick on their lights, and the transmitter would automatically trigger the signal in the traffic light, allowing the flow of traffic to move through the intersection, and allowing crews to move through, too.
"That’s huge, anytime you’re responding to an incident, a cardiac arrest, a stroke, structure fire, time is of the essence and we need that time," Montoya said.
Crews said the technology is expected to increase response times by 8 to 12 seconds per traffic light. Crews said they respond to nearly 30,000 calls per year.
"That time adds up quickly," Montoya said.
Montoya also said the technology can help prevent accidents, and said the technology will preemptively trigger all future lights in the rescue crew's path, not just the closest one to them.
He also said it will improve pedestrian safety. If a pedestrian has pushed the crosswalk button prior to the rescue vehicle triggering the transmitter, the light wont turn green for the rescue vehicle until the pedestrian is out of the intersection.
“We want to keep them safe while responding to calls," Montoya said.
Montoya said 54 of the county's 133 traffic lights have this technology installed, with crews prioritizing the busiest intersections first. He said the goal is to eventually install the transmitters in all of them.
He also said it costs about $5,000 to install the technology in each intersection, and said grant money paid for 49 out of the 54 traffic lights. He said MCFR is working with public works to get money allocated each year through capital improvement projects to continue installing the technology at every light.