The Menlo Park Fire Protection District will be modifying the traffic signals on El Camino Real in Menlo Park and Atherton so emergency-response vehicles can turn them green as they approach, Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.
The goal is to maintain, or improve, emergency response times, which are being challenged by increased traffic volume and congestion, he said.
In an emergency response, "minutes matter and seconds count," he said. "The reality for us is, lives hang in the balance."
However, he warned, for traffic signal pre-emption to reduce response times, vehicles must be able to move out of the way. "Pre-emption only works when there's flow," he said.
The district will spend more than $60,000 upgrading the traffic signals, he said. The district is also splitting with Atherton the estimated $300,000 cost for a pedestrian-activated traffic signal, which the district will be able to control, at Almendral Avenue and El Camino, near one of its fire stations.
Last year the district used $100,000 -- contributed by Facebook to offset impacts of the company's developments on the fire district -- to upgrade or install pre-emption devices on Willow Road, University Avenue, Marsh Road and Bayfront Expressway traffic signals.
The fire district covers Menlo Park, Atherton, East Palo Alto and some unincorporated areas.