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Saving time and lives

click to enlarge Colorado Springs Fire Departments new computer system clears the route to the fire with green lights along the way. - RICH TOSCHES
  • Rich Tosches
  • Colorado Springs Fire Departments new computer system clears the route to the fire with green lights along the way.

The English have a long and storied history of astounding technological creations, starting in the mid-1500s when -- you can look this up -- Sir John Harrington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I, invented the flushing toilet. Harrington called the device a "necessary" -- a name that certainly makes sense if you've ever eaten English food.

Of course, not all English inventions and creations were as successful. In the 1930s, for example, a London genetic breeding lab experiment involving a skunk and a monkey went terribly wrong. British officials secretly placed the odd creature in a crate and shipped it to America, where it found its way to Colorado Springs and, even today, babbles in an almost-human way about the liberal media and sells office supplies such as paper clips.

Despite that Embryonic Disaster (ED), the English continue to have a great interest in science and technology. Which brings us to last week, when former Prince Andrew, now known as the Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Minister of Funny Walks (although I might be confusing Andrew with a character in a Monty Python skit), paid a visit to our village to learn more about our high-tech traffic light system.

This system, as you know if you drive around here, is an elaborate and sophisticated one in which Chester the Traffic Engineering Moose scrapes his huge antlers against a computer keyboard, randomly changing our traffic lights from green to red. This motorist-friendly system is known as ABBSFBSM (A Brief Burst of Speed Followed By Skid Marks).

Dangerous intersections

Seriously, the duke, who serves as the United Kingdom's trade and investment representative, was in our village to check out a brand-new, $1 million computerized traffic light program. The program utilizes a global positioning satellite system and will, within 12 months, control all 514 of our village's intersections -- 515 if you count the always-dangerous intersection of Mayor Rivera Way and Tolerance Avenue.

The new system will allow our brave firefighters to race safely through these intersections, lights flashing and sirens wailing, on their way to yet another false alarm at Hooter's.

Station 1 firefighters Jamie Gutschick, Karen Alcorn and Richie Rexach actually got to meet the Duke of York during his tour of the village's Traffic Management Center. They, along with the duke, were briefed on the innovative new system and were, as firefighters typically are, quite impressed.

"He asked me if I drive the truck," recalled Alcorn. "I told him I did sometimes and he said, 'Have you nicked the vehicle?' and I had no idea what he was talking about."

From fellow firefighter Rexach: "I wanted to say, 'Hey, speak English!'"

The duke was asking, of course, if Alcorn had ever crashed or damaged a fire truck. She hasn't. And when the new system is in place -- paid for with a federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality grant -- it will make it even less likely that a Colorado Springs firefighter will nick a vehicle.

The first such system in the U.S.

Here's how it works.

As firefighters prepare to leave the station on a call, they enter their location and the location of the fire or accident into a laptop inside the vehicle. The information goes to the city's traffic management office and within seconds a display screen in the fire vehicle shows the best route to the incident. At the same time, the computer estimates the fire vehicle's time of arrival at each intersection along the designated route and changes each traffic light to green as the truck approaches.

It will, according to city traffic engineering boss John Merritt, cut fire department response times by as much as 30 percent.

"Ultimately," said Station 1 firefighter Bob Burton, "it will save time and save lives."

About 160 intersections now have the technology to implement the system, according to traffic boss Merritt. For the next year, the remaining intersections will be equipped to go online to the city's computers. It will be, he said, the first such system in the United States.

And, because he wanted the British royal family representative to understand the importance and the seriousness of such a technological marvel, he recounted this exchange in the traffic management center with the man he called Prince Andrew. (Note: Andrew was a prince until Fergie dumped him and found her true love -- a coconut cream pie.)

Anyway, here's what Merritt said of his meeting with royalty:

"I have a fish tank," Merritt said, "and the prince was looking at a big fish in the tank and asked me if it had a name. I told him the fish's name was Andrew.

"I think he believed me."

So here's to our good and loyal friends, the English. I think I'll honor them tonight by eating their favorite meal.

Andrew and chips.

-- richt@csindy.com

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