I realize that it is impossible to know every address and every street in your fire district. I also understand that departments, especially those that are small, have to move personnel around to other areas to accommodate staffing issues. With these factors in mind it it still blows my mind how much time is spent looking for addresses. The growing use of the mobile data terminal (MDT) GPS systems have drastically helped, but face it, there are still many times that you have to go to the map book or rely on memory.
There are several ways to learn your area. You can study map books or use programs such as Google maps and MapQuest to learn travel routes. These are just a couple of common methods responders can use to become more familiar with their area. All of these are good and have merit; however, none are as good as the old fashion method of getting out and driving areas.
If it is your first-due area get out and drive the streets. Don't drive the common roads, use the routes that you do not travel on a regular basis. Learn common places and associate them with the street they are on. These places may include stores, hospitals, and bodies of water or any other common landmark. If you are stationed in an area that is more residential than commercial spend your initial time learning things like where particular developments are. Assigning each company a designated section of the map book to drive and update on a regular schedule will also aid in learning how to navigate the district
As I already mentioned the use of MDT type systems linked to the dispatch centers are a great help. Depending on how they are set up they may even include the map section on how to get there. These are great tools; however, they are not always without errors. There are times that they may be off line and can't be used. Considering these factors there is still no substitution for getting out and driving around to learn.
Do you have a plan in place to learn your second-due area? Do you provide training time to allow companies to learn their back-up area? With growing call volumes and the amount of daily work to be done I would imagine this falls by the way side.
One good method that works and does not take a lot of time or leave areas uncovered is a rotation method. Pick a certain day, for example anytime your shift works on Friday. Look at the coverage area map for your district and rotate every company one area clockwise. Have a predetermined amount of time so they know when to return to their area without creating unnecessary radio traffic. A good rule of thumb is two to three hours. Be sure to include your communication center in this plan to lessen any confusion.
A duel reason for this rotation can be pre-planning. While in the secondary area let the companies plan a commercial structure they are not used to, giving them a chance to learn these as well. Use these and any other methods to get familiar with your primary and secondary areas whatever it takes to decrease times caused by not knowing where to go.
Get out and drive. Learn those areas and make a game of it to get there sooner...happy driving.