The wail of the sirens and the flash of the lights? All too often, still not the warning many drivers need.
"They have their windows up, they have the heat on," says Lt. Ron Finley. "They don't hear the sirens until the last second, and then their first reaction is the hit the brakes. So they hit the brakes, then the person behind them does not stop fast enough, and now you've got a chain reaction accident."
It's a scenario fast-becoming nothing more than a memory thanks to the Opticom system. It's new equipment, as of Monday, in every Lansing first responders' vehicle.
Each vehicle is equipped with a strobe light that emits an infrared signal. All traffic lights will soon have a box that reads the signal from a few blocks back. It then turns the light green, reducing accidents and improving response time by about 20 percent.
"We can go faster by driving slower," brags Delta Township's Fire Chief Victor Hilbert. They've had the system for years. Lansing's announcement Monday means more regional cooperation in response to emergencies, and for them, more speed en route to the hospital.
"[It’s] the problem we've always had when we come into Lansing,” he says.
If you watch closely as a driver, there's an added safety feature in this for you, too. When you're approaching a green light, look up. If the little light above it is on, your lights about to change, and an emergency vehicles about to pass thru your intersection.
The double warning’s a double boon for the men and women racing thru that traffic. They say not only will they get there faster, they'll get there in one piece.
The system is at 100 intersections in Lansing and 50 outside Lansing already. They hope to have it all over the city by the end of 2006.
Opticom is illegal in your home vehicle. It cost about $1.2 million. Most of that money came through federal grants.