U. student develops device to prevent crashes with firetrucks, ambulances

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SALT LAKE CITY — When she was 16, new driver Jacqueline Rodriguez had a close call on the road: An ambulance nearly t-boned her as she passed through an intersection.

"I didn't see it," she said. "I didn't hear it. Probably wouldn't have survived it if I had crashed into them."

The experience eventually inspired the University of Utah student to try and prevent these kinds of accidents. Rodriguez researched car accidents involving fire trucks and ambulances and found there are roughly 9,000 such crashes ever year in the U.S. Half are fatal.

"A Camry can't compete with a fire truck," she said. "It's just not going to happen. The fire truck is going to win."

Salt Lake City firefighter Adam Archuleta is often behind the wheel of a fire truck. He he's had several near misses on the way to a call.

"Firefighting is an inherently risky job," he said. "Statistically, one of the most dangerous things we do is respond to an emergency call."

The Salt Lake City fire department uses lights and sirens in 40 percent of its callouts, but distracted drivers may not see or hear them. A radio may drown out the sound or a cell phone may prevent quick recognition.

"When we go 10-39 or lights and sirens, there's obviously a greater risk and the public is exposed to that as well," Archuleta said.

That's why Rodriguez decided to expand her research. She's has been developing a device that would alert drivers of oncoming fire trucks and ambulances when they're 1,000 feet away.

"It was really interesting to see that not very many people have considered the idea," she said. "The technology is there."

She said the project will take a lot of time and money, but she has been working on funding and logistics. In the end, it could help save lives, and she claims it would have made a difference in her near-miss with an ambulance four years ago.

A prototype could be ready in in about a year. She hopes to partner with a local fire department and get a grant to work on this project.


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