Many us think we’re pretty good drivers. We’re not.
First responders — police and fire — are though. They’ve usually graduated from an emergency vehicle driving course, or been trained by longtime cops or fire service veterans. They have, by far, excellent driving skills compared to those on Lake County highways.
They have to be. Negotiating heavy traffic, busy thoroughfares, distracted drivers and various weather-related road conditions are not easy tasks for most motorists.
First responders are getting to emergencies at high speeds while their vehicles’ cherries and berries are pulsating, and sirens and horns are warning fellow motorists they’re on emergency runs and to get out of the way.
For Gurnee firemedics, time is of the essence to get victims to trauma centers for treatment in the department’s 32-square-mile service area. It is estimated that it is the second-busiest department in the county.
Which brings up how Gurnee fire department personnel negotiate getting on a busy Route 21 from the village’s nearly year-old Station No. 3 on Manchester Drive, across from the Heather Ridge complex. It must be dicey at times since an estimated 21,100 vehicles travel Route 21 daily, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Yet, that amount of traffic doesn’t merit a traffic signal. Gurnee officials found this out after they applied to the Illinois Department of Transportation for the installation of a controlled traffic light at the intersection.
The request was denied even after state Rep. Joyce Mason, D-Gurnee, cobbled together a $750,000 state grant funding package for installation of a signal. One would think in an election cycle, the administration of Gov. JB Pritzker would be eager to dole out funds for highway improvements at a busy state-road intersection.
“We are very grateful for (Mason’s) support and assistance,” Village Administrator Patrick Muetz said in an email. “We also appreciate the guidance from IDOT throughout the process.” One of the siting points for the station was its easy access to the Tri-State Tollway and Route 120.
According to Muetz, “It’s more complex than just ‘traffic-count.’ The signal must meet the signal warrant analysis prescribed by the Federal Highway Administration Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices which takes into account multiple factors.”
The bureaucratic-sounding and formulaic MUTCD guidelines outline strict federal standards used by road managers nationwide to install and maintain traffic control devices on US public streets, roads and highways. It’s been the traffic law of the country since 1971, and is the bible for traffic management engineers when it comes to not only signalisation, but also road markings and highway signs.
Station No. 3 has been open since mid-October, a $5.8 million partnership between the village and the Warren Waukegan Fire Protection District, which has contracted fire service for unincorporated Warren Township with Gurnee since the Great Depression.
The village has two other fire stations — the main facility on Old Grand Avenue and No. 2 at Dada Drive near Hunt Club Road. Muetz said Station No. 3 is staffed by four fire medics. It houses two ambulances and a ladder truck.
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As an alternative, the village has installed an Opticom-activated flashing yellow beacon to alert traffic to fire equipment attempting to access off Manchester Drive. “Our equipment enters Route 21 cautiously and therefore there have been no issues to date,” Muetz said.
“It’s similar to our equipment entering Route 132 at Old Grand,” he added. “There has never been a signal there, but we make it work.”
Muetz said if vacant land surrounding the site is developed, increased vehicular traffic, “should warrant a signal.” Until that happens, if ever, motorists might want to pay attention while passing that location.
Give the firemedics a break and a brake if they’re on their way to an emergency run. You don’t want to be their next call.
Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor.