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Thread: Do you hear all your other stations' dispatches?

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    Default Do you hear all your other stations' dispatches?

    A group from our department is investigating better ways to dispatch our 5 stations (5 engines, 2 cross staffed trucks).
    - 85 line personnel and we do NOT run ambulances (ran privately).
    - 6500 calls/year.

    Currently, the way our dispatches work is if you were at Station 2, you would hear all 6500 tones and only respond to 2000 calls.

    The question at hand is how do you guys get your dispatches?

    What is the size of the Department? calls/year?

    How many different/backup notifying devices are used; pagers, tones, rip and run?

    How long has current system been in place? Do you like it? Change?



    We would like to move to hearing just "our own station tones" in order to be able to address some of the health problems associated with interrupted sleep and lack of sleep in the Fire Service. WE VERY WELL recognize that getting up in the middle of the night is part of our job, but want to find a better way to do it. And before you call bull$h!t, read this article on firefighter sleep deprivation.

    Your comments and input on this is very much appreciated! Answer what questions you can or want to. And if I've left anything out that would better paint the picture, let me know.
    Last edited by Wet on Red; 05-25-2010 at 01:17 AM.

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    Sounds like you have automated dispatch, no watch desk. So ours might not help you... Large metro dept., about 700+ runs per day, 56 engines, 27 ladders, 30-50 medic units (dep. on time of day), 11 chiefs plus a gaggle of other units (rescue, FMs, dep. chiefs, specialized units, fire boats, etc.)

    We can and do hear every dispatch city wide. We have three means of dispatch - 1. PA, 2. CAD, and 3. scanner/radio. Dispatch comes in, man on watch will hit lights/bells/doors as appropriate to each unit in the house. Then grab the printout to have for the officer, and call out the assignment/address. We still keep handwritten watch logs with our house's runs, as well as the surrounding companies.

    1. Public Address - This is the "official" dispatch method. Every dispatch for every unit in the city is broadcast over the PA to every station. AFAIK, it is a "hardwired" connection between our FCC (fire communications center) and each station. If the other systems fail, you'd better be listening up to this or you'll miss a run. It's been in place since the horses were around, I think.

    This is also used to announce road closures, hydrants OOS, and other messages deemed important to somebody or another, like the commissioner...

    2. CAD (Computer Automated Dispatch) - every watch desk has a dedicated watch PC. When a dispatch for a unit in a particular station comes in, a big red box flashes with a unique sound alert. The dispatch information then will pop up on screen and automatically print out - address, time of dispatch, box #/location, run #, type of alarm, etc. Will also print out some (not all) additional info the calltaker has gotten, say "uncon in grey BMW" or a call-back number. Primary means of dispatch when in station, but not "official". If the CAD goes down (99.9 % reliable), or run just doesn't come over it (rare), but the PA goes off, the chief will have your butt if you're not listening.

    It's windows based, this system's been around for about 7+ years. Current system replaced an older DOS system so we've had this overall available for some time. (I think; last CAD long before my time.)

    3. Scanner/radio - Much the same as the one on the truck, can listen to any particular band but can also scan any/all bands. Primarily set to your primary fire band, often used to listen to tac channels of jobs going on around city, especially if nearby. Only means of dispatch when out of the house - no MDTs yet, except the medic units and chiefs. We have the city divided north/south, each with a fire band, medic band, and three tac channels, plus assorted rarely used channels like hazmat, heavy rescue ops, etc. Digital/trunked system in place for (5+??) years.

    If all three have failed at once, don't worry, you'll be on the street for armageddon anyway...
    SACTMD likes this.
    Opinions expressed are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Philadelphia Fire Department and/or IAFF Local 22.

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    Hey there,

    My city is a mid-size suburb near Houston. We average about 5000 runs/year between 4 stations.

    We have 2 forms of dispatch:

    1) Z-tron: This is a computer assisted form of dispatch. When a call comes into a specific district, only the z-tron for that station will go off. It automatically turns on the lights in the dorms (if at night) and informs us of the call over the speakers in the station.

    This way, only the specific station needs to be informed, not each station in the city. Also, each apparatus has a pager assigned to it, so when a call comes in, besides being told the information over the speakers, we also have the info waiting for us in the fire engine when we leave.

    2) Our portable radios can be left on (in case z-tron goes down), but then you're going to hear each call in the city. So, this is a secondary form of dispatch, and much less desirable.

    I think the z-tron would be worth looking into for your stations.

    Take care,
    Pete

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    We are a decent size city. 23 companies and 3 bat. chiefs. 20 stations in all and about 40,000 calls. Dispatch is done by the following ways

    1) the call is sent to the MDC on the truck. meaning if you are riding down the road it pops up. This is the quickest method.

    2) The call is sent over the computer to the "plectron" (I dont know the modern term for it) system and the bells and light come on. this is the slowest method and does not work 100% of the time.

    3) the watchman is responsible for listening to the radio. If he hears a call dispatched he will alert the station if the bells dont go off. He will also usually yell out which company it is if a multi-company house. Or if it is a fire or ems call. Also listen to make sure the calls are not improperly dispatched. Meaning fire in your first due and you are not put on the run.

    4) lastly if not marked responding to the call. the dispatcher will call the station on the direct line from the fire ddeispatch.

    usually for us we listen to the radio during the daytime. the watchman will turn the radio up for working fire or anything that sound interesting.

    If we get to the 4th method of dispatch the watchman is in trouble. He is ultimately responsible

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    Plectron is the past now it is called FRAP [Fire Rescue Alert Paging] or Vocal Alarm.

    I was there before the Plecton system was installed.

    I guess the last resort of dispatch would be the ring down phone, direct line from the Communication Center to each house.

    To the OP, your dispatch center needs to be on selective dispatching so only the company(s) that are dispatched will hear the tones.


    No one wants to hear a company going at 2 AM if its not your compnay.
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    Not sure what our system is or what it called way before my time here and back during the High Band VHF days. It's now been reworked to work with 800 trunked. But each of our 5 stations has it own tone/decoder that will opening up the box which will then turn on select lights and open up the radio to hear dispatch... During the day we turn the box to Day which allows us to hear every dispatch, then before sleep we turn the box to night which turns on the box to only open for our tone.. The radio in office has it own speaker which is not controlled by the box, so if your in a light sleep you can hear it..

    We have 5 station and run around 2000 calls a year...

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    Quote Originally Posted by CaptOldTimer View Post
    Plectron is the past now it is called FRAP [Fire Rescue Alert Paging] or Vocal Alarm.
    Thats what it is called i was drawing a blank. thanks capt.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RFD21C View Post
    Thats what it is called i was drawing a blank. thanks capt.

    Never seen anyone 'draw' a blank.


    No problem Pal glad to help out. Is the CFD radio still hooked into the system? Do you guys go on that or wait for the RFD alert?
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    They still have it a 22. However ours was making some horrible nosies, so CFD came and picked it up. Now we have to wait for it to be dispatched through RFD radio first. I did hear that we were going to get the FRAP to somehow monitor and go off when the CFD hits our tones on their radio system. However that is way above my computer and radio skill set. I am just happy to figure out the new handhelds we have.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RFD21C View Post
    They still have it a 22. However ours was making some horrible nosies, so CFD came and picked it up. Now we have to wait for it to be dispatched through RFD radio first. I did hear that we were going to get the FRAP to somehow monitor and go off when the CFD hits our tones on their radio system. However that is way above my computer and radio skill set. I am just happy to figure out the new handhelds we have.
    The plan was after the big three went to the 800 system and frap all cads were suppose to be tied together so if cfd needed a rfd company could see if it was available and dispatch it direct if they were. Same for HDF as well. Plus for it to work ion reverse so the rfd could dispatch either cfd or hdf. I knew it would take a long time to get the three cads to talk to each other. Maybe one day..

    Now when HFD gets on line with the 800 that is the same as the big three, you'll be able to talk direct to them and them to you.
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    just got that ablity about two months ago for the radio. now on every radio we have all of CFD, HFD, HANfd channels. each in a different zone. our primary zone now even talks to us when we change the channel. fancy!!

    the cads i dont know that much about.

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    I cannot thank you enough for the interest and responses to this thread. It is all great information.

    You are correct we do not have a watchman. We have a 911 dispatch center that handles all emergency calls for the county, which is approximately 10 fire departments (only 1.5 of them paid). Most people in our dept. who are opposed to changing our current dispatch protocols say the reason is, our that 911 makes to0 many mistakes.

    For example, E1 goes on a call, 911 somehow doesn't clear them from the call, next call > they dispatch E4. Another one, some areas b/t districts consistently have the wrong unit dispatched.

    None of our engines have MDTs, thus the dispatch center does not know where any given unit is. Do you think this is the major factor in dispatch errors?

    I'm also curious to those that have replied and may reply after this: DO YOU HAVE MDT's IN YOUR ENGINES?

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    I replied on your other thread with the information I had. I'll add in here about the MDTS.

    All of our response vehicles have MDTs with GPS. All priority 1 & 2 calls get the closest units (so if someone is driving for fuel out of their district and a priority call comes in right next to them, they get it). Priority 3 and lower get dispatched to the unit assigned to that district, if they are available. The 911 dispatch center uses CAD and it recommends units based on the above factors (it also knows what units are BLS/ALS). They are able to override the CAD as they see fit. Units can clear over the air or using the MDT. They are also responsible for marking back on station. This cuts down on errors substantially.

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    If I may confuse things a bit...

    My District covers 5 counties, 22 firefighters, 13 units ( we are a state forestry district) all 9 stations have the same radio network (repeater system, w/ simulcast on all channels (4)). with everyone up on the repeater system, we now hear dispatch as well as all other units in our district (we don't have tones or anything, just voice)(before we'd hear dispatch, but not the mobile units)
    "If you can't be a good example, the you'll just have to be a terrible warning."

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    We have 5 stations, 7 companies. We have our own dispatcher who receives information from the 911 call taker, then enters them in the CAD, selects the companies to respond, and transmits the alarm. 4 of the 5 stations are new/rebuilt and have a pager system that sets off a speaker "Station response" and 3 beeps-followed by the Dispatcher's radio announcement. It also turns on the dorm lights and flashing lights in the workout room. The 5th station is the one with the Dispatch in it, it has an older plectron that works similarly without the voice. These systems reset after about 30 seconds. We do not have separate tones for companies in the double houses-too bad for the truckies

    Each rig has an MDT. We get address and maps, and can place ourselves enroute, on scene, in service, and remove from call. We do not designate anyone to be on watch at the outlying stations. If for some reason the alerting system didn't work, we would get called by phone and radio.

    Prior to the plectron in 1991, they had dedicated ringdown "hotline" phones from the Dispatcher. We have the capability to leave the speaker open, but stopped doing so during the first year after getting the plectrons. Some stations/platoons leave a scanner on during the day, some don't.
    Last edited by gunnyv; 06-05-2010 at 02:54 PM. Reason: More info

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    Only on the watch and the officers desk area's has monitors so they can hear the calls. If something is working, the fire alarm will notify all houses of the worker and they officer in charge can if they so desires flip a switch on the vocal alarm so all speakers will broadcast that job. Normally this may occur if a second alarm is struck or if the companies may be due on the third or larger alarm(s).

    Wet, in my department everything in the house has separate alerting system so that if the truck goes, the other companies or unit don't get the alert in their dormitory. Of course if the houses goes all dormitories gets alerted.

    All our apparatus have mdc's and we get the dispatch info there as well.

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    For those that say they have a "watch" and/or your own dispatcher I'm curious how old your departments are and whether you are East vs West coast. Also how does that work, somebody has to stay up all night?

    Its amazing the variety of ways departments dispatch. But all in all I see that we may be severely lagging behind the technology curve, especially not having MDT/MCT's. Anybody have grant information for getting them?
    Last edited by Wet on Red; 06-07-2010 at 12:18 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wet on Red View Post
    For those that say they have a "watch" and/or your own dispatcher I'm curious how old your departments are and whether you are East vs West coast. Also how does that work, somebody has to stay up all night?

    Its amazing the variety of ways departments dispatch. But all in all I see that we may be severely lagging behind the technology curve, especially not having MDT/MCT's. Anybody have grant information for getting them?



    Most departments east of the Mississippi have watch desks in the engine houses. There may be some west of the Missipp as well.

    There are also a lot of department large and all career that find they do not need an MDT/MDC on the apparatus. They do find using the radio for all messages to and from. It is call tradition.

    As RFD21C had said their dept using the Vocal Alarm system to all houses. The actual name is FRAP installed by Motorola when that department and the two adjoining career department on either side of his as well are using the same radio system, MDC's and related equipment. They are all assigned different zones so any or all mobile and handheld radios can be used to select the system of agency that they are operating in. Not only those fire agencies but the local police and medic providers as well.

    Likewise the departments in the Norfolk/VaBeach/Portsmouth/Chesapeake/Newport News/Hampton, etc are using the same system as well as the departments up in Northern Virginia, aka NOVA and the others across the state of Virginia as well.

    Each of these departments are served by a central dispatch center that does fire-police-ems-and other agencies. Our dept is over 150 years paid and 225 years as a department.
    Last edited by CaptOldTimer; 06-07-2010 at 03:37 PM.
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    Decidedly old, east coast; as a paid dept., we only go back to 1871, but we are "Franklin's Own"...

    Watch schedule officially rotates every 2-3 hours:
    10 hour days - Platoon A
    0800-1000 Adam
    1000-1200 Bob
    1200-1400 Charlie
    1400-1600 Dave (Adam again if single house)
    1600-1800 Ed (Bob...)
    14 hour nights - Platoon B
    1800-2100 Frank
    2100-2400 George
    0000-0230 Harry
    0230-0500 Isaac (Frank...)
    0500-0800 Joe (George...)

    Some houses/platoons have their own system which works for them, some guys like being up from 0300-0800 and permanently sit that "watch"; others will pay to not have to sit 0230-0500. Rules state that no man should sit two consecutive watches. They're broken up so guys can manage to stay alert. (Actually our rules just for watch duty are 10+ pages long, but are a bit out of date. e.g., TV & radio OK at volume lower than PA/radios, but they forbid VCRs, and make no mention of DVDs, let alone PCs/gaming consoles/etc.)
    Opinions expressed are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Philadelphia Fire Department and/or IAFF Local 22.

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    all i hear at night is voices in my head
    The Box. You opened it. We Came...

    "You'll take my life but I'll take your's too. You'll fire musket but I'll run you through. So when your waiting for the next attack, you'll better understand there's no turn back."

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    Quote Originally Posted by JHR1985 View Post
    all i hear at night is voices in my head
    You need to report to the department's doctor for that....
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

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    I work for a department that runs about 2200 calls/year out of 3 houses. We have 24 FTs and a ton of POCs. We are dispatched through a county dispatch. We all carry pagers and hear the tones for every single one of those 2200 calls. We are currently working on switching the county dispatch over to "station specific" tones instead. If that took place then I think the other 5 departments would also switch over. We also run MDTs in all of our vehicles, so when we hear the MDT start making noise we know its our call before our pagers go off. A few of our neighboring departments run the station specific Ztron and tone over the air if the required units are not in quarters.

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    We have a county dispatch system, and although my department is 5 stations (2 staffed with paid personnel, 4500 calls a year), we share the same system with 12 other stations in our area.

    We use a comtech alerting system in all of our stations that is hooked to a Motorola pager that acts as our 'watchman'.

    When the stations PL tones are send over the radio by our dispatch, it opens the PA speakers for 45 seconds or so, as well as turning on the lights, killing power to the gas (stove), and it will even open the bay doors if you want. This system can even be set up to zones within a station only opening some speakers or some lights if you have your apparatus crews split up by different rooms.

    The comtech is not a cheap solution but it has about every option under the sun. You can hook it into VOIP, regular phone systems, radios, pagers, you name it. I think it will even put a text message from an alpha pager across the TV with a few other gadgets attached...

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    JHR1985 - I know whatcha mean, the voices are strong.

    Thanks all for the continued discussion on how your department dispatches. I've come to the conclusion that having a watchman is not in our best interest.

    Naegling - Thanks for putting up the link to the comtech, that looks very interesting and flexible. Sounds like it might be a bit on $$ side? Any ideas on ballpark $ estimates per station?

    And just to clarify, our current operation:

    1. 911 center sends tones out to 5 stations,
    2. Stations hear tones, Station hears dispatcher reading recommended units, address, nature of call etc
    3. All radio traffic for incidents are ran on one dedicated radio channel for our department(call if Fire #2). Other neighboring departments use the 3 other fire channels (1, 3 and 4)

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    Wet on Red,

    Keep in mind that a lot of these systems can become expensive rather quickly. Just one example is the radio system that RFD21C uses. That system was $32M over a decade ago (that being said, it covers a population of nearly 1M people in three jurisdictions).

    MDT's can be quite costly also. For example, our department uses two flavors of the Panasonic Toughbook, which start at $3500 each for the less powerful model. However, to have the MDT's work properly, you must also have the infrastructure in place to support the MDT's, such as the a wireless card to allow the MDT to communicate with the dispatch center. Obviously this would be an on-going operating expense that would have to be budgeted.

    But before that, you must ensure that that CAD software that the comm center is using is configured for MDT use. If not, you'll have to purchase at minimum a software module to do this ($$$) or in the worst case, all-new CAD software ($$$$$$).

    Also MDT does not equal GPS. GPS and/or AVL (Automated Vehicle Locators) are a secondary feature of the MDT. In fact, you don't even need to have MDT's in order to have GPS/AVL, although it certainly helps.

    Given your situation, it appears that the most economical thing would be to have 2-tone sequential paging for each station, and a receiver in each station wired to the lights/bells/etc. This can be done fairly inexpensively with the receiver and a very small mixer board for each station. The only other expense would be the tone encoders that would have to be placed in the comm center for the dispatchers.

    As for the dispatchers making mistakes, there are departments all over the country that are doing fine without MDT's, GPS, and AVL. This is a training issue between the dispatchers and field personnel. Are the field personnel ensuring that the dispatcher acknowledges their traffic? Is the dispatcher echoing pertinent traffic? This single topic could take on a life of it's own, but it is worth mentioning.
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