New system makes firefighters safer, more efficient
By Robert Cloud
A new incident notification system helps Waupaca firefighters find their destination, know what special hazards a site may have, know which volunteers are responding and how soon they will arrive.
“It’s peace of mind to know who’s actually coming,” said Steve Fenske, a member of the Waupaca Area Fire District who has been spearheading the implementation of the program.
For years, area fire departments have relied on pagers to alert individual members of a fire.
When a call is made to 911, dispatch sends out a tone to pagers. Each department has its own tone.
Dispatch also uses the pager to inform the firefighters whether it is a city fire, a rural fire, smoke alarm or any other special information they need to know.
Waupaca has about 35 firefighters. They are volunteers, so most of them have full-time jobs and cannot always be available.
Fenske said he is unavailable from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays because he works in Fond du Lac.
However, when he is home, Fenske is usually one of the first to arrive because he lives only three blocks from the fire station.
Specific equipment is assigned to respond to each type of fire. The order in which each truck leaves and the size of its crew are also predetermined.
The new software is called IamResponding. It allows the volunteers to press a single button to allow supervisors to know who is responding.
Linked to Google maps, the system shows which firefighters are responding to the call within seconds of the sone from dispatch.
“We can turn on the GPS that shows where they are,” Fenske said, as he pointed to icons indicating where individual firefighters are. “If they don’t have a full team, they can know that the final member is only minutes away.”
The map also includes information on the location of hydrants, the size of its water main and whether the hydrants are out of service.
The system also provides visual and voice directions to the fire. Text messages indicate what roads have been closed due to construction. Boat landings and railroad crossings are also indicated.
“It shows the standpipe connections,” Fenske said. “A fire truck can hook up to it to help support their internal sprinkler system.”
There are also symbols that indicate that a building has solar panels, so the firefighters know if there is electricity coming into the building even if the power is disconnected.
Much of the information specific to local buildings and hydrants has been entered by members of the fire department.
“All of us have been compiling the information,” Fenske said.
In addition to a big screen at the fire station, each individual can see the same maps and information on his mobile phone.
Fenske said several other area fire departments – Weyauwega, Iola, Manawa and Clintonville – are also using IamResponding.