Kingston fire and rescue automates dispatch system

The City of Kingston, Ont.’s fire department is expecting to shave a minute and a half off the average response time to fire calls with the implementation of a computer-aided dispatch system.

The system, from Ottawa-based Xwave,

will be rolled out by September, and will be integrated into the voice radio, firehall alerting and fire records management systems.

“Reducing our response time by a minute and a half is a huge, huge thing,” said Captain Greg Robinson of Kingston Fire and Rescue.

Kingston, which amalgamated the former City of Kingston, the former Kingston Township and the former Pittsburgh Township in 1998, has 10 fire stations. Some are staffed by career, or professional firefighters, some are volunteers and others are a mix of career and volunteer, said Robinson.

“That requires a response plan that is a little different from most fire departments, so we needed a computer-aided dispatch or a company that was going to make it flexible for us,” he said. “We felt Xwave had the depth of technology to do this for us.”

Robinson explained that in the current system they have been using for years, when a call comes into the dispatch centre, the fire department has to flip through a bunch of run cards to find out where the street is.

“That will tell us which station is to respond,” he explained. “Then we go to a big console and we have to figure out what frequency to use for those stations and which tower to use.”

With the Xwave CAD system, the name and address will immediately come up on a computer screen, so the fire department knows immediately which stations and trucks should respond.

And while the project is going well so far, said Robinson, it’s not without its challenges. At this stage, Xwave is incorporating the city’s GIS database into the system.

“We’ll come up with an idea of what we would like to have the CAD do, but we’re not sure if that is technically possible or feasible,” he said. “It’s just determining what we really want. There are an awful lot of options.”

As well, this is the first time Xwave has designed a CAD for a fire department, although it has been installed in more than 35 law enforcement and emergency services dispatch centres. Fire departments, said Robinson, are more complex because they have more business process rules to build in.

“The fire department has a whole bunch of different response rules that have to be put in, since we’re dealing with a huge number of resources compared to a police department – firefighters, officers, fire trucks and the equipment on those fire trucks — so when there’s an incident, not only does the location determine what trucks will be sent, but the incident type itself will determine what types of trucks will be sent,” said Robinson. “We have to set those business rules in place beforehand, and that’s certainly a lot of work for us to do. That has to be implemented and installed into the CAD to make it work properly and it has to be tested. So we’ve developed a detailed response plan, and it spells out for every type of incident what type of truck is to go.”

According to John Taker, director of business development in Xwave’s public safety group, when a 911 call comes in, the system automatically refers to any related database to determine what else in the immediate area, such as the nearest hydrant or whether there’s any hazardous material nearby.

As well, he added, the fire trucks will be equipped with a mobile workstation so that firefighters will receive the same dispatch information and will also be able to run queries against databases for related information. Those computers will be equipped with GPS units so the fire department will always know where the trucks are.

Volunteer firefighters in the areas outside the city will carry alphanumeric pagers.

“What that means is we need to have interfaces to their paging system so we can fax the dispatch information or communicate that dispatch info not only to the units, but also to the firehall,” said Taker.

As well as being integrated into the City of Kingston’s fire department systems, the Xwave CAD will also be connected to CFB Kingston’s Falcon Security’s wireless alarm monitoring system, which will provide information from remote smoke detectors, sprinklers and pull-alarms.

Xwave also recently signed on the City of Camrose, Alberta’s police, fire and ambulance services.

In the future, said Taker, Xwave plans to develop its CAD products to become more multi-agency capable.

“There’s a trend especially in U.S. toward regional co-operatives where many agencies group together to have a common dispatch centre, where agencies share a common computer infrastructure and our system is well geared to do that,” he said.

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