Photos courtesy of John Lewis Operations Chief Jim Martin, above, and Sergeant Edwin Lehan, below in foreground, work together at one of four basic workstations in the vehicle. Each workstation is equipped with a laptop and hard drive for downloading. In a post-9/11 world, one of...
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Photos courtesy of John Lewis
Operations Chief Jim Martin, above, and Sergeant Edwin Lehan, below in foreground, work together at one of four basic workstations in the vehicle. Each workstation is equipped with a laptop and hard drive for downloading.
In a post-9/11 world, one of the best components in incident command is achieving interoperability with surrounding agencies and jurisdictions. The Washington, DC, Fire Department has taken a leap toward accomplishing that feat by adopting a new command unit to coordinate all the main activities that occur during a major incident. The Mobile Command and Communications Vehicle, available from Pierce Manufacturing, has been delivered as a tool in the next step of preparedness for first responders and command personnel.
“At a large incident, we can merge all of our radios with the radios from the surrounding agencies. It coordinates efforts with police, hazmat, the Emergency Management agency, Department of Public Works, Department of Health, American Red Cross…we can all be on the same page,” says John Thumann, division commander and deputy chief.
Departmental needs have changed dramatically since Sept. 11, 2001. Operations Chief Jim Martin reports that back then, they would use a liaison, a runner, who would literally run around to the various departments relaying information. “During the attack on the Pentagon, we realized that we couldn’t depend on cell phones and, although we did use a runner, the agencies were branched out all over the place. I stayed with the incident commander at Arlington. He would give information to me and I would coordinate. Today, we could just get in the unit and coordinate with every jurisdiction on the city, county, state and federal levels.”
The multi-purpose vehicle is used as a combination for both fire and EMS calls and coordinates on any call where the operational commander responds. Once the chief arrives, a unified command is set up. The front of the unit is set up as operational command, with Thumann functioning up there, while the back part is unified command, where Martin synchronizes with the other entities. There are four basic workstations at a normal working fire, with the capabilities expanding to nine during a major incident. Each station is equipped with a laptop and a hard drive for downloading.
Basic radio operations at each workstation allow everyone to be on the same frequency and know the same information at the same time. That, Martin says, is a tremendous asset if DC has to evacuate an area. They are currently working hard to get MPD’s helicopter into their vision.
Photo courtesy of John Lewis
The Mobile Command and Communications Vehicle for the District of Columbia Fire/EMS.
“Obtaining visuals from CNN and other television helicopter feeds is an asset as well. Frankly, they have the budgets to allow them those resources and if we can see what they see, it will benefit the incident,” Thumann says. Martin agrees. “During the Pentagon attack, I had an entire view but Chief Thumann did not. If we had fly-over capabilities, I could get that information to him right away. Now we can.”
The Ikegami ICD 870 camera attached to the mast of the command unit scans a 360-degree area for observation. In a WMD incident, they may not know what chemicals have been released outside. The camera allows them to perform a signs and symptoms survey. Another function of the camera is that it has an instantaneous playback recorder so that they can record what’s happening on the screen. They can also print it out.
“There are times that we need to replay something. ‘Did that guy call for help?’ We can play it back and say, ‘Yes, whoever from Engine 1 is on the second floor and he needs help.’ It’s an effective tool,” says Thumann.