Wednesday, March 28, 2012

County dispatch goes smart

New phone apps place information at fingertips

Express Staff Writer

Chris Corwin, GIS analyist for Blaine County Emergency Communications, demonstrates use of a smartphone application and computer-based software that could give firefighters crucial information while on the scene of an emergency. Photo by Roland Lane

Smartphones may become more common sights on fire scenes, as a county analyst is developing application software that would put more information in the hands of emergency responders.

Chris Corwin, geographical information system analyst for Blaine County Emergency Communications, has been working to combine county mapping data, fire department GPS data and smartphone technology to allow easier access to pertinent information.

Corwin used the county's GIS along with a program called ArcGIS that combines the data and incorporates it into a smartphone or tablet computer application.

As a result, firefighters in the field with smartphones will be able to consult the app and locate the nearest hydrants, sprinkler system connectors and more.

For example, Corwin said, often fire departments are called to the scene of a gas leak. In a large house or a condominium complex, crews could be searching for the gas shutoff for far too long.

"If we have someone out in the field [with a smartphone] and there's a gas leak, they're not searching multiple units," he said. "They'll know where the gas shutoff is and they can just go and turn it off."

Corwin said Sun Valley Fire Code inspector Ried Black, who used GPS units to collect data while carrying out inspections, has collected the most extensive data set so far.

"In this case, he collected things like gas shutoff, water shutoff, locations of mechanical rooms, stairs, elevators, and FDC or fire department connections, hydrants, anything they would use in a situation," he said.

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said the software could also be used on mobile data units that have been installed on the department's engines and ambulances. The units help crews locate the site of a fire, and Elle said having hydrant and other information on the engines in that form would be valuable.

Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said he believes the app will be important for his department in the future, but that his department doesn't now have funding for the data units.

"In the future, I think it's going to be something we rely on a lot," he said. "Right now, we don't have the money to buy those computers to put inside of our fire trucks. We're still at that point where we have to pick up a map."

As for adding additional data to what the county GIS already has, Elle said data-gathering might have to wait until the department has filled its two open full-time positions—a hiring decision controlled by the city of Ketchum's budget.

However, he said he has loaded the app onto his personal smartphone, and that department volunteers can use their personal smartphones to use the app on scene.

"For a volunteer firefighter anywhere in the county to pull up and find that information on an app, it will definitely improve response times and efficiency," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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