Traffic cams, dispatcher to help emergency response during bridge detour | PostIndependent.com

Traffic cams, dispatcher to help emergency response during bridge detour

Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson points out some of his concerns with what's expected to be a "choke point" in the Grand Avenue bridge detour at Eighth and Midland that could hinder the passage of emergency vehicles without proper planning.

A combination of extra traffic-monitoring cameras at key locations through Glenwood Springs and a dedicated dispatcher will help emergency responders navigate through town during the Grand Avenue bridge detour.

Emergency response during the 95-day bridge closure and detour that begins Aug. 14 has been the subject of some intense discussions among police, fire and ambulance services and area hospital officials in recent months.

The result is a plan that Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson and Fire Chief Gary Tillotson believe is a solid one, so long as it's coupled with some basic understanding on the part of the traveling public.

"Courtesy and patience, those two things alone go a long way toward us getting through this as a community, and getting through it without injury and problems," Wilson said.

To help police officers, ambulance drivers, firefighters and doctors do their jobs, officials have come up with a multifaceted approach to deal with the traffic challenges that are expected once the detour hits.

A dedicated dispatcher at the Garfield County Emergency Communications Center will have the sole job from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day of monitoring traffic and directing emergency vehicles accordingly.

"That person's only job is to service those of us trying to get to any kind of emergency call, or response, during those peak traffic hours," Wilson said.

Though the morning and evening rush hours are of particular concern, the two-lane detour is likely to experience traffic backups all day long, he said.

The detour, which is necessary for the final stage of construction on the new $125 million Grand Avenue bridge, will divert traffic from Interstate 70 Exit 114, along the north part of Midland Avenue to Eighth Street and back onto Grand Avenue at Ninth.

To help the dispatcher do his or her job, the Colorado Department of Transportation has committed to install nine additional traffic cameras at key locations all throughout Glenwood to keep an eye on things.

"This will allow us to have a multiview opportunity for real-time conditions, so that for the ambulance coming to Valley View Hospital or a sheriff's deputy trying to get up Four Mile Road, we can evaluate the conditions they are likely to encounter and suggest the best route," Wilson said.

The plan is the result of numerous meetings between police and fire agencies from Aspen to Parachute, emergency medical service providers, ground and air ambulance services and representatives from three hospitals.

It covers everything from coordinating a response to a major incident such as a wildfire, multivehicle injury accident or major crime incident, to getting an expectant mother or trauma patient to Valley View or whichever of the other area hospitals can handle a certain case.

Even scenarios that would require transport of a patient across one of the two pedestrian bridges from the north side of the Colorado River to a waiting ambulance on the other side have been addressed.

"If it comes to that, we can get someone to Two Rivers Park, and EMS can go across the pedestrian bridge and get them back over to the other side," Wilson said. "We have tested that theory, and it works."

As for staffing of emergency medical services and fire personnel, Chief Tillotson intends to start each day with half of his eight-person daytime shift situated at the West Glenwood station, and the other half at the downtown station.

It's a "divide and conquer" strategy that, coupled with mutual aid agreements with the Carbondale and Colorado River Fire Rescue districts, should maintain adequate staffing on either side of the detour to respond to a large incident, Tillotson said.

Emergency vehicles will have exclusive rights to bypass the detour by using Wulfsohn Road above Glenwood Meadows, as well as the right lane of Colorado 82/Grand coming from the south.

The middle section of the detour, especially the intersection of Eighth and Midland, will be a "choke point" that emergency officials will have to monitor closely, Tillotson said.

If need be, dispatchers can direct traffic control to hold a lane of traffic so that an emergency vehicle or vehicles can get through, he said.

That's also why it will be important to keep through traffic, especially large trucks, off of Midland Avenue from Eighth to 27th Street, Wilson added.

"We can't let that turn into a major subarterial, because there are very few places where cars can get out of the way of emergency vehicles," he said.

For Valley View's part, on-call medical staff, including trauma teams and physicians, will be stationed on the south side of Glenwood to facilitate faster response times, said Stacey Gavrell, chief community relations officer for VVH.

The hospital has also secured a fleet of electric-assist bicycles for doctors and other key medical staff to use if need be to get to the hospital more quickly in the event of a major traffic jam, she said.

Conversations with other area hospitals, including Grand River Hospital in Rifle and Aspen Valley Hospital, have centered around diverting certain types of emergencies to those hospitals if need be, Gavrell said.

"We have three outstanding hospitals serving our area," she said, and the call can be made to send some emergency cases to one of those hospitals or, if coming from the Eagle Valley, to Vail Valley Medical Center.

But Valley View does have specialized services, including the Roaring Fork Valley's and Garfield County's only birth unit, cardiology cath lab and neurosurgical program, meaning those types of emergencies would still need to be sent to the Glenwood hospital, Gavrell said.