EARS device alerts drivers to rescuers

The Emergency Alert Response System was designed for safety.
Thursday, December 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:02 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A new device that alerts drivers to approaching emergency vehicles recently made its debut in the small town where it was invented.

Hallsville residents Rick McBroom, a former law enforcement officer, and his wife, Connie, a former firefighter captain and emergency medical technician, recently invented the Emergency Alert Response System, or EARS, which is being installed in Hallsville school district buses and Boone County emergency vehicles.

“I think it’s an exciting idea,” Hallsville superintendent Tom Baugh said. “Even if it doesn’t save a life, but makes the bus driver feel a little more safe and secure, it’s worth our time.”

The EARS system is intended to alert drivers to the approach of emergency vehicles in case they fail to see or hear emergency lights or sirens. Transmitters in emergency vehicles activate EARS receivers from as far as 2,000 feet, triggering a beep and a light to make the driver aware they’re approaching.

Connie McBroom hopes the device will boost driver awareness and emergency response times.

In 2003, there were 1,591 crashes involving emergency vehicles in Missouri, said Ron Beck, director of the Missouri Statistical Analysis Center. Five of those accidents were fatal.

“The device will never eliminate emergency vehicle accidents, but it will help lower these incidents,” Connie McBroom said.

Hallsville has never had a bus collide with an emergency vehicle. However, Baugh noted the device can also alert drivers to emergency vehicles before they let children off the bus.

“We have a lot of narrow and curvy gravel roads in our district,” Baugh said. “It’s always been a concern for us with kids crossing these roads.”

Demand for the devices is spreading quickly.

“The sheriff’s department in Cole County has ordered transmitters for all of their patrol cars,” Rick McBroom said. Emergency services in Jefferson City, Phelps County and the state of Maryland have requested presentations on the device.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said there are no plans to install EARS transmitters in police cars.

“I attended a presentation of the prototype a few months ago, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with it,” he said. “We have a lot of electronic equipment in our patrol cars already, and we’re concerned that it might interfere with that equipment. I think that we’re going to wait and let them perfect the device before we move forward with it.”

The Hallsville Police Department put transmitters in its two patrol cars last weekend.

“We’ve had no problems or difficulties with the devices,” Hallsville City Clerk Cheri Reisch said. “They seem to be working just fine after the first week.”

Rick McBroom said the devices were specifically designed not to interfere with other equipment.

EARS Alert, a non-profit organization that was formed this year, provides free transmitters to emergency services. Proceeds from the sale of receivers, which cost $49.95, help cover the cost of producing and installing the transmitters.

“We hope the device goes nationwide and that it actually becomes mandatory in all emergency vehicles to make roads safer,” Connie McBroom said. “We’re going one city at a time.”

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