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Fighting fire ... with computer technology

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

By CHRISTINA HOLDER, clholder@naplesnews.com


Estero Fire Rescue is getting a technology makeover.

Within the next few months, the fire district hopes to locate land for a new training facility, hire a communications director and install a computer Intranet.

The changes are part of the district's efforts to extend services and update the stations in the growing area.

New fire stations have driven the need for improved technology, said district executive officer Jeff Lindsey. The Stoneybrook station opened in February on Fire House Lane, and the Coconut Point station is scheduled to open by March 2004.

Prior to the having the new stations, Estero Fire Rescue operated out of a single building.

"Now we're up to three fire stations, an operations office and an administration office," Lindsey said.

The district has hired CRS Technology of Cape Coral to link the computers in the current stations and buildings. The nearly $29,000 project will be finished by fall 2003.

The Intranet will allow firefighters and administrators to communicate through an office e-mail system and to access maps, forms and policies from any computer on the system.

Fire chief Dennis Merrifield said employees are looking forward to the new technology because the current system delays response among officials at different stations.

"It slows the communication," he said. "We had outside e-mail accounts, but we could not share information."

Currently, employees must save documents to a disk and pass the disk around.

Merrifield also said the district is in the process of hiring a communications director to prepare for the increased news that will result as the district builds more stations.

Currently, fire officials share the responsibility of talking to the media and gathering information for press releases.

Projects with larger ranges are also in the district's scope.

The district has approved a new training center and now is trying identify land within its $1.1 million price range.

"So far whatever land that is useable is way over-priced," fire marshal Mike Cato said.

District officials want a facility to teach firefighters specialized rescue techniques instead of having to send them to out-of-town training centers.

Cato said it is possible that the Estero training facility eventually could become a regional center.

"Nearby neighbors could come here instead of going to Sarasota or Ocala or across the state," he said.