New Fire, Paramedic Response on I-90 Attempts to Resolve New Express Lane Barrier and Access Problem in Westbound Lanes, Schaumburg


A new fire department and paramedic response agreement involving four northwest suburban communities will affect the way fire departments from Arlington Heights, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg and Rolling Meadows respond to crashes, vehicle fires, medical emergencies and other emergencies on the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) in Schaumburg.

A serious time-delaying obstacle to emergency vehicles was created by a concrete barrier that was built as part of the recent design improvements and capacity improvements on Interstate 90.

The problem with the new express lane barrier was first publicly reported and published by The Cardinal — on Janurary 17, 2017. Schaumburg firefighters were actually caught by surprise when they realized the newly completed configuration prevented them from reaching the express lanes for a vehicle fire in January 2017 — right after tollway construction was completed.

The barrier — known in firefighter lingo as “the chute” — divides the local and express lanes of westbound I-90 for more than one mile from Route 53 to just west of Meacham Road overpass.

With the new “chute” design, there was no safe or easy way that Schaumburg fire vehicles in Schaumburg responding from Route 53 or Meacham Road could directly access the westbound express lanes of I-90 without physically having firefighters scale the wall while the their fire vehicle was stopped in the local lanes.

The nearest entrance ramp to access all westbound I-90 lanes (express lanes and local lanes) became located at the Arlington Heights Road interchange.

In other words, Schaumburg firefighters could not respond to westbound express lanes in their own village without traveling all the way along eastbound Higgins Road to northbound Arlington Heights Road to westbound I-90 (half the trip on surface streets). The up to 8.5-mile trip takes longer than 10 minutes — even with lights and sirens, and worse in traffic jams.

With the new agreement, Arlington Heights Fire Department, normally responding from Arlington Heights Fire Station 3 (south) and Fire Station 1 (downtown), will be simultaneously responding (mostly by tollway) to incidents as far as westbound I-90, just west of Meacham Road. Since a Tower Ladder truck is frequently used to create blockage for a safe traffic zone on expressways, this assignment will take the Tower Ladder from downtown Arlington Heights a good distance out of its normal districts, but mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns can bring a Tower Ladder or other ladder type trucks to Arlington Heights if a fire breaks out in Arlington Heights.

The agreement also involves Rolling Meadows Fire Department coverage of southbound Route 53 to westbound I-90, and Hoffman Estates coverage on eastbound I-90 from Barrington Road to Roselle Road.

The biggest problem remaining is the difficulty identifying exactly where a crash or incident is located. Sometimes callers don’t know if they are eastbound or westbound on I-90, and they frequently don’t know if they are east or west of Arlington Heights Road or Route 53 or Meacham Road. The problem is challenging for Northwest Central Dispatch System dispatchers because a crash location makes a big difference on what fire stations are dispatched. If the wrong fire stations are dispatched, it could be a difference of life or death for a trauma patient that is waiting 15-20 minutes for paramedics instead of 5-7 minutes for paramedics. Fire departments use dual responses or simultaneous dual response for an abundance of caution, but that puts a lot of fire equipment up on the expressways and tollways.

There have been similar situations when crashes are on westbound I-90 near Daily Herald headquarters, just east of Arlington Heights Road. Arlington Heights Fire Station 3 would be the closest distance to the crash, but it’s not their call because crews would have to travel east on I-90 and make a turn around near Elmhurst Road and head westbound on I-90. They normally wouldn’t travel the wrong way in tollway lanes unless a disastrous multi-vehicle, multi-injury crash totally blocked the westbound lanes. The routine call, even for a serious crash, is assigned to Elk Grove Township firefighters.

Sometimes there is a breakdown in communications between Illinois State Police troopers, their Dispatch, and Northwest Central Dispatch, which exacerbates the problem. The bottom line is that improved cameras, increased number of cameras, and training is necessary to pinpoint crash sites, and improve the overall response situation.

See also …
The Cardinal New I-90 Interchanges, Express Lane Changes Require Updated Fire Department Response Plans
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