Opticom: The safety system that didn’t work in KC, and the city won’t talk about

Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 4:30 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2023 at 5:00 PM CST
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - KCTV5 Investigates has learned a safety system called Opticom is only partially installed in Kansas City.

The system rarely works because receivers need to be installed at traffic lights. Opticom activates when emergency vehicles flip on sirens, activating the transponders. It then clears a path for first responders by switching traffic lights to green.

That didn’t happen on Dec. 15, 2021, when KCFD Pumper 19 crashed at Westport and Broadway killing three people.

KCTV5 has learned Pumper 19 had an Opticom transponder, but Westport and Broadway did not have a receiver.

Court records and video revealed the pumper ran a red light.

The incomplete system is now the focus of a recently filed grievance by the firefighter’s union, Local 42.

The grievance claims the city failed to provide a safe workplace and the city failed repeated requests to install Opticom.

The grievance was first addressed to Chief Donna Lake, who is now retired.

It was heard Wednesday by Kansas City’s Human Resources Department.

Opticom systems

A fully working Opticom system is in Overland Park, Kansas. It was purchased three decades ago.

St. Charles, Missouri, recently rolled out its Opticom plan. The media release boasts how 80% of the cost was paid through a federal grant.

It’s unclear if Kansas City, Missouri, has applied for any state or federal grants to complete its partial system.

News of an incomplete safety system became public when the attorney representing firefighter Dominic Biscari claimed the city failed the firefighter and revealed the city had a partially installed Opticom system.

It’s something KCTV5 attempted to fact check with the city numerous times, and even the mayor’s office.

ALSO READ: KCFD changes red light policy following Westport crash

Emails went unanswered.

KCTV5 has filed numerous sunshine requests seeking city emails and documents regarding the Opticom system.

Here’s a partial list our investigative team is asking for:

  • Is Opticom installed in all firetrucks/pumpers?
  • Is Opticom installed in ambulances?
  • When did the city first purchase and install Opticom?
  • How many streetlights have Opticom receivers?
  • How much has the city spent on Opticom and/or any purchases from Global Traffic Technologies?
  • Is an Opticom receiver installed at the intersection at Westport and Broadway?