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Willoughby Hills testing way to alert drivers to approaching emergency scene

WILLOUGHBY HILLS, Ohio-- It's an instant notification Willoughby Hills firefighters say could save their lives and yours in an emergency.

The department said they are the only one in Northeast Ohio, to their knowledge, piloting HAAS Alert. It's a tool aimed at making the roads safer by improving driver awareness of firefighters responding to or at a emergency scene.

"Working on the roadways is very dangerous," Lt. Lou DiMattia said. "A lot of accidents, people injured, killed every year."

DiMattia said a large portion of their emergency responses include accidents on Interstate 90 and Interstate 271.

The HAAS Alert warns drivers within a quarter-mile radius of an emergency vehicle via the GPS Waze mobile app about the presence of first responders.

The alert is aimed at getting drivers to more closely follow the Move Over Law. DiMattia said it even notifies drivers via an audible alert of an approaching emergency vehicle.

"I think everybody can probably speak of a time when they've been on the freeway, either summertime or winter, when they hear brakes lock up, or a semi come sliding by sideways because they didn't see the accident or people weren't prepared to stop or move over," DiMattia said.

Because of the size of the department, DiMattia said they cannot always provide additional personnel to establish a presence farther away from an accident scene to alert incoming drivers.

"We really don't have the staffing levels to be able to park a fire engine or police officer upstream on the freeway to notify people that there's something approaching," he said.

HAAS Alert is currently being piloted by the department in two vehicles since May. DiMattia said it cost about $1 per day, per vehicle and they hope to expand the program.

"Instead of fighting the technology, we might as well embrace it and use it to our benefit to protect us and the public," he said.

According to the fire department, vehicle collisions and struck-by incidents are the second leading cause of line of duty deaths for firefighters after heart attacks.

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