FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
I know this will date me, but when I started in law enforcement, we still had some cars that had overhead sirens and dual, motor-driven, “bubble” overhead lights.
The overhead sirens did a great job of destroying officer’s hearing, as well as making it nearly impossible to communicate with dispatch when running code three. The lights had very limited visibility, and the motors that spun the lights moved very slowly in cold weather until they warmed up. The times and available equipment have changed for the better.
When I travel, I always take note of what types of lighting is being used on emergency vehicles. Some are great, some are good, and some have literally scared me with their low visibility. Although I’m far from an expert on emergency lighting, vision or the related industry, I do have enough insight to relate what my experiences have been in the visibility of different light bar systems.
Emergency lighting colors are often mandated by state laws, which are sometimes in conflict even in adjoining states. There have been countless debates, studies and opinions on what light bar is the best and what color combinations are the most attention-grabbing.
Many departments are currently in the process of testing and/or purchasing new vehicles due to the demise of the time-honored Crown Victoria. New emergency lighting will likely be part of the equation.
If you’ll pardon the pun, I’d like to draw your attention to the light bar that was recently adopted by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. I won’t waste your time with written specifics, as the video gives the details of this outstanding product by Code 3, Inc. What I will say is this: Although there may be one out there, I personally haven’t seen a light bar to date that’s as attention-grabbing as the Code 3 model OSHP is using now.
I’ve talked to several troopers about the new light bars. All have agreed that the visibility is far better than the bar it replaced. One commented something to the effect of: "When I’m running code three, even in the daytime, people get out the way much faster than before. They seem to see me sooner."
The YouTube video really doesn’t accurately illustrate how bright and visible this light bar really is. The first time I saw one, I was on the turnpike en route to ILEETA. I couldn’t believe how bright it was. I know that other states and departments have used all blue light bars for ages. However, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time in the state of Ohio that we’ve seen them adopted by a major agency. The OSHP’s new light bar is combined with a rear strobe setup, that offers great visibility to the rear as well. The bottom line: OSHP, I salute your innovation and hope that other departments will take note and follow suit.
The other point I want to make is a request for the companies that manufacture sirens. If you build emergency equipment, please listen up. The impetus for this request is a long story (particularly since I’m no longer on the road and now work a support services job), so I’ll keep it to the CliffsNotes version.
Late last year I found myself at the culmination of a long vehicle pursuit. It was just seconds after an aggravated felony suspect crashed his carjacked vehicle. The suspect had tried to exit a u-shaped expressway exit ramp at a ludicrous speed (which, by the way, the ramp was posted as a non-ludicrous speed zone). He lost it, slid sideways up a hill, through a fence, and up against a garage with the car resting on the driver’s side. Now this guy had been on a felonious rampage, which included multiple aggravated robberies and two carjackings at pistol point, and the vehicle pursuit had just crossed into its second county. Several agencies were involved by then, and as could be expected, we all ran up the hill to apprehend the felon.
We were in an armed standoff with one major problem: communication was impossible. We couldn’t communicate with him; we couldn’t communicate with each other. Why? It was because the sirens were still screaming on several of the now-unoccupied police vehicles. This was obviously a serious impediment to resolving the situation, so I ended up reholstering and running back down the hill to turn the sirens off. This allowed communications to resume, increased officer safety and gave the suspect ample time to surrender. Ultimately, the suspect refused to comply and pointed his pistol at officers, at which time his threat was lawfully neutralized. However, this was hardly the first or last time officers have encountered this “self inflicted” lack of communications scenario.
The unnecessary and communications-killing siren wailing after officers have had to rapidly exit their vehicles continues to plague our profession. If you’ve done nothing but watch the TV show COPS, you’ve seen this problem arise continuously for much more than 20 years. In the age of present-day circuit boards, switches and electronics, is it too much to ask siren manufacturers to build a switch that automatically shuts them off when the officer exits the vehicle?
I’m not an automotive engineer and don’t play one on TV. However, couldn’t the sirens be wired into the same type of pressure switch that the seat belt chime uses, only in reverse? Thus, it would act as a kill-switch for the siren when the driver’s seat is unoccupied. Now that I think about it, couldn’t the pressure switch that disables passenger side airbags when the seat is unoccupied be wired right in as a siren kill switch into the driver’s seat? Or perhaps a door switch that kills the siren when the driver’s door is opened? Seriously, I don’t care how they do it, just do it. Now!
We need to be flooding the e-mail inboxes of emergency equipment manufacturers asking for this change. Any manufacturer of police cars could be wiring this change into their vehicles as they build them. They say necessity is the mother of invention. The necessity has been there since the siren was invented, and hopefully this article will bring it to light. Let’s see if any of The Big Three or the emergency equipment manufacturers act upon it.