A GPS System For Fire Department & EMS Dispatch

Francis Hamit describes how emergency responders around the world are using the Global Positioning System (GPS).


Modern dispatching of firefighting and emergency medical services has become more than a simple reaction to an urgent problem. It is also the strategic husbanding of often scarce resources, in a time when budgets are tight and competitive pressures are intense. "We have very stringent...


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Expansion Ahead

In the future, photographs and three-dimensional representations of complex and crowded urban terrain such as high-rise-laden downtown areas may be incorporated. Ambulance crews may have access to these images with monitors rather than just character-based data terminals. It may even be possible to support virtual reality "fly-through" visualizations of routes to the emergency location. The company continues to develop new features including better decision-support software. It is also interested in operations research applications.

Already, Maloney said, the TIGER data files are being overlaid and enhanced with satellite images. Thus far, "the reason we're doing that is not because it's particularly useful but because it's sexy," he admitted. "It does help put a location in a larger geographical context but the people using the system usually know where they are without that. It is a way to sell the system to non-experts such as government officials."

American TriTech deployed the first VisiCAD fire dispatch system in Denver in December 1996. This is a beta-test site run by the Denver Fire Department.

Juan Guttierrez, the department's chief of fire communications, said the system is not using a GPS component but relying on dispatcher monitoring of vehicle locations. It is being tested on more than 40 pieces of fire apparatus (the department has no ambulances), and has been able to enhance the basic mapping data with such features as layers that show the locations of fire hydrants and the flow rate (in gallons per minute) of the water mains that support them. More importantly, the system also indicates whether a hydrant is in or out of service.

"The capabilities are phenomenal," Guttierrez said. "We're just trying to learn the basic capabilities we've been given so far."

Those capabilities include giving the dispatcher information about the equipment and personnel on each truck. The truck closest to an emergency is not always the best one to respond.

"If you need a piece of special equipment like a 50-ton jack or (a hydraulic rescue tool) or special people like those who are trained to handle hazardous materials, then you want to (target) that response with the unit most appropriate to the job," Guttierrez said.

The intelligent attributes feature can also warn a crew of unusual conditions at a site such as hazardous materials, or that a building is an abandoned one with large holes in the floors. That knowledge can save someone's life.


Francis Hamit is a member of the American Society for Industrial Security, National Military Intelligence Association and Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He is a consultant on fire life safety and security issues.