by Thomas P. Healy
Residents and commuters may have been inconvenienced by temporary lane closures on Meridian Street for Citizen Energy Group’s DigIndy project and IndyGo’s Red Line bus rapid transit (BRT) construction, but for Indy’s first responders, it was all in a day’s work.
“Our team knows the best route to go to on a run—especially during construction and rush hour,” said Andrew Bowes, planning section chief for Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services (IEMS.) “We try to be as efficient as possible, and while we can’t plan for every eventuality, we do a pretty good job. Our average response time is below five minutes.”
In addition to making sure the daily emergency service needs of Marion County citizens are met, Bowes also oversees medical responses to large-scale events like the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon and activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In his experience, good information is necessary so his team can minimize disruptions to response times. “We answer between 340 and 370 calls a day with ambulance service, so we’ve got to know where construction is and where closed streets are.”
“INDOT and IndyGo give us info about the road system in Marion County, then we get the word out to our team and they plan their responses and routes to get to people in need,” he said. His colleague, Brian Van Bokkelen, IEMS media relations and public affairs manager, said ambulances are dispatched from 31 different areas around the county, not from IEMS headquarters at 3930 Georgetown Rd. “Our ambulances are ‘tethered’ to fire stations, community centers, hospital, and schools,” Van Bokkelen said, adding, “The one that’s closest takes the run.”
Bowes noted that state law [PDF] requires motorists in both lanes to stop when an EMS vehicle approaches with lights on. “That’s particularly important right now along the construction zone on Meridian Street. We ask motorists to pull over as best they can on both sides since it’s only two lanes.”
Joseph Krebsbach, deputy chief of the Indianapolis Fire Department’s Bureau of Operations, agrees. “Our job, to the greatest degree possible, is to prevent fires or respond. We don’t want significant delays,” he said. Dealing with traffic and congestion is part of the job. “We make runs downtown every day during rush hour and it’s not worse in Midtown.”
Krebsbach said it’s common for IFD to go into oncoming lanes to get around traffic congestion. “We don’t foresee bus travel lanes being a significant hindrance. The way IFD is viewing this new BRT line—especially on College—is that there are three available lanes for police, fire, and EMS.”
Lane closures along Meridian Street have worked well so far, according to Lauren Day, IndyGo’s director of public relations. She said first responders are included in the transit agency’s planning process. “We’re meeting weekly with Indianapolis Fire Department, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, IU Health, Indianapolis Public Schools, Emergency Management Service, and Homeland Security to review the most updated version of our response plan,” she said.
Bowes and Krebsbach represent their respective agencies at IndyGo’s weekly meetings. “We know exactly where they’re working, what roads are restricted, and which are closed,” Bowes said. “We make a workaround with that.”
IEMS has nearly 350 employees, including 220 paramedics and 120 state-certified EMTs. “We do round-the-clock shifts every day all year round,” Bowes said. Ambulance drivers are highly trained and are required to pass an emergency vehicle operator course and earn an emergency vehicle driver certificate. The course highlights the complexities of driving under emergency situations, trains drivers how to cope with unexpected situations and conditions, and builds familiarity with defensive driving techniques.
While IFD does not expect any significant delays with the new BRT line, Krebsbach said IFD will monitor response times once the Red Line begins service. “Compared to police and ambulance, our response time is easier to measure since all of our runs come from fixed locations. We have baseline measurements. If we see a significant change in response times, we’ll go back to IndyGo and say, ‘We’ve gotta do something.’”
Krebsbach said IFD staff has met with IndyGo staff and looked over the new BYD battery electric buses that will serve the Red Line and future BRT corridors. “IndyGo is doing a good job of keeping us informed and getting us as much information as possible regarding what it is we’re going to be dealing with if there’s a fire or accident.”
IndyGo BRT integration specialist Tim Cox, who piloted one of the new 60-foot BYD buses during a November media event, participated in a recent vehicle training with first responders. “It lasted about two hours. We had a classroom setting and then spent a lot of time actually going over the bus. We even put one on a lift for them.”
Mark Emmons, IndyGo’s director of safety, said an info packet was also distributed. “It showed wiring diagrams for the bus, electric lockout locations, battery locations, and safety data sheets (SDS) on the battery technology.”
Another session for first responders is forthcoming. “The BYD training will take place at IndyGo’s headquarters early next year when we have one or two more vehicles,” Emmons said.
STRONG SAFETY RECORD
According to Bryan Luellen, IndyGo’s vice president of public affairs and communications, IndyGo has earned recognition for its strong safety protocol. “IndyGo was one of five transit agencies to receive the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) gold standard for Baseline Assessment for Security Enhancement (BASE) in 2017,” he said.
The TSA’s BASE program is a voluntary security assessment of national mass transit and passenger rail systems performed by TSA’s transportation security inspectors. According to the TSA’s website, “The Gold Standard Award is the top recognition the TSA bestows to a transit agency for achieving the highest scores on its BASE review that evaluates 17 categories of security and emergency preparedness action items identified as fundamentals for a sound transit security program. Establishing a national standard for individual transit system security programs, the review includes topics such as an agency’s security plan, security training, drills/exercise programs, public outreach efforts and background check programs.”
Luellen added, “IndyGo scored higher than the BASE Participant Average in all categories.” Previous TSA reviews in 2014 and 2011 also resulted in Gold Standard recognition for the transit provider. He said IndyGo will participate in another BASE review in 2020.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 print edition of the magazine.