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New I-90 Interchanges, Express Lane Changes Require Updated Fire Department Response Plans

Tue January 17 2017 8:28 am
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Interchange improvements and new express lanes on I-90 at Meacham Road may be good for getting around in Schaumburg, but changes to I-90 have complicated emergency response strategies for vehicle crashes, medical emergencies and fires in the area.

Schaumburg Fire Department can no longer access all lanes of westbound I-90 at the Route 53 interchange. An express lanes barrier separates local lanes from express lanes. That means that a crash in the express lanes can’t be quickly accessed by Schaumburg firefighters because it would only be possible by climbing over the barrier. This necessitates Arlington Heights firefighter/paramedics respond from Arlington Heights from fire stations that are 6 miles and 8.5 miles away — entering the westbound express lanes west of Arlington Heights Road.

Fortunately, if there is a simultaneous fire in Arlington Heights, other fire departments from other communities, such as Rolling Meadows, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights and Elk Grove Village would fill in on the south side or central sections of Arlington Heights.

If you ever pass a crash on westbound I-90 west of Route 53, don’t be surprised if you see Arlington Heights firefighters west of Meacham Road and possibly even as far as Roselle Road.

Firefighters often respond to expressway crashes with a dual response, which means two suburban fire departments respond to a crash. The dual response helps prepare for an errant caller that gives the wrong location, and provides extra protection at the scene. Firefighters are careful to establish a protection area with their vehicles to reduce the risk of errant drivers that could come crashing into the previous crash scene. A secondary crash is probably one of the highest uncontrollable risks that firefighters face on the job.

The State of Illinois could do a better job of providing cameras to help 9-1-1 dispatchers pinpoint the location of crashes, and assign the best response. Callers don’t often know exactly where they are after a crash. They might say they’re east of Meacham Road when they’re really west of Meacham Road. In the confusion, they might not know if they are in eastbound lanes, westbound lanes, express lanes or local lanes. The difference could require an entirely different fire department response to the tollway, and the difference of 10-20 minutes for a response time — even longer in serious traffic jams. That difference could mean the difference between life and death at a serious crash.

About a month ago, Schaumburg firefighters had to make a special request to have Arlington Heights firefighters respond to a vehicle fire believed to be in the express lanes west of Meacham Road. The new permanent lane restrictions had not yet been realized by firefighters. Now area fire departments have to contend with new expressway and tollway jurisdictions or response areas.

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