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Serious safety concerns in Indianapolis put first responders and others at risk

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A potentially serious safety issue is putting first responders and others at risk. I-team 8 has found that many traffic control devices that turn red lights to green for emergency vehicles are not working in Indianapolis.   

When you call 911, the hope is the fire department can get to your house as quickly as possible. The city of Indianapolis has a device at several intersections called an Opticom. It gives the green light to firetrucks and other first responders when they are on their way to help someone. The city of Indianapolis is unaware of how many of those devices they have and how many are working. 

The Indianapolis Department of Public Works is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Opticom devices. I-Team 8 asked DPW for a list of working devices and locations, they sent us this statement:

“There is no current list of locations of Opticom devices that are inactive or are currently working.”

We are told a grant was paid for the initial installation of these traffic control devices decades ago, and the program has experienced maintenance challenges.  However, a few of the devices have been repaired, but again DPW couldn’t tell us where. 

Wayne Township Fire Department says it has close to 40 Opticom devices in their area; less than 10 are working.

Troy Wymer from the Wayne Township Fire Department said,  “The one thing is we put a lot of time and energy protecting the public, and really the one time we put the public at some risk is when we respond.”

When the Opticom device is working properly, a fire truck or ambulance sends a signal to the device at the intersection, causing the light to change or stay green. Naturally, it speeds up response time and helps keep you from getting into the intersection and causing a crash. Wayne Township is in the process of replacing all the devices in their area. 

“To the traffic lights belonging to DPW, the fire apparatus belongs to us, those two things have to work together technically and practically in order for the system to work properly,” Wymer said.  

The cost to replace each device is around $10,000 per intersection. Wayne township has found funding to help pay the lion’s share of the cost. As for the rest of the city, the DPW statement says the following:

“Because of the prohibitive cost there is no current plan to systematically restore locations that are no longer functioning.”