Florida law requires you to move over or slow down for emergency vehicles, but the construction zones on U.S. Highway 98 make that a little difficult.
Thankfully, updated technology will help make it a little easier for first responders to get through traffic once construction is finished.
"We’re trying to part the red sea but there's nowhere for the sea to go" said Destin Fire Chief Kevin Sasser.
The Florida Department of Transportation is widening about 3.8 miles of U.S. 98 from Airport Road east to near the Walton County line. The $33.3 million job began last year and is expected to be finished in early 2021.
Since the construction started, emergency officials have noticed an increase in how long it takes first responders to get to the scene of an emergency.
Sasser said the blame doesn't fall on the drivers because the drivers have nowhere to go. Lane closures and traffic cones make it impossible for them to pull off the road.
"We know the public wants to move out of the way, but they literally have nowhere to go and that creates frustration," Sasser said.
The fire chief said they have tried to find alternative routes, but even the back roads have their own set of challenges.
"We usually take Commons Drive to avoid traffic, but now that people have found that road, it's slowed us down again," Sasser said.
But Sasser believes that their response times will see an improvement once construction is done. Not only will the road be wider, but FDOT has also agreed to update and replace the preemption devices on the intersections.
The preemptive system consists of an emitter device on a vehicle and a receiver device at an intersection. This system allows first responders to manipulate traffic signals to help keep traffic flowing and ensure emergency vehicles have the right-of-way.
"The new GPS-based devices know the direction we're traveling and can turn the lights green well in advance, which will help clear the way for our trucks," Sasser said.
The devices the fire department currently use are obsolete, but they haven't been able to afford to replace them. In an email to The Log, FDOT spokesman Ian Satter said that the new GPS-based devices will be placed on the seven intersections within the construction zone and the Destin Fire Control District will provide the emission devices for their vehicles to activate the new devices at the intersections.
"Once the project is complete, our response times will probably improve," Sasser said. "Until then, we're just gonna have to do the best we can."
The fire district was not able to provide the actual response time numbers to The Log by deadline.