Fire department equips vehicles with computers in Calif.

The days of printouts and mapbooks are essentially over for the Rialto Fire Department

By Josh Dulaney
The San Bernardino County Sun

RIALTO, Calif. — Most companies won't spend $110,000 to make work more efficient by 30 seconds.

But most companies aren't in the business of saving lives.

The Rialto Fire Department Fire Department is.

That's why Fire Chief Robert Espinosa has worked to secure federal Assistance to Firefighters grant money to outfit the department's engines with mobile computers and automatic vehicle locators to improve dispatching and communications.

"Our response time goes down and it gives us a little bit of an edge," Espinosa said Monday.

Under the department's old system, calls would be teletyped while firefighters ready to respond to emergencies waited for a printout.

Firefighters in the field would have to tell the dispatcher of their last location, and dispatchers would send engines to new calls based off those locations.

The problem was, if the locations weren't updated and an engine had moved on, a dispatcher could run the risk of sending that engine to the next emergency, when another engine was closer.

With the vehicle locators and mobile computers, dispatchers now know the exact location of each engine.

Espinosa said the advantages are huge.

"The detail is better, the accuracy is better," Espinosa said.

The computers' touch screen technology feeds firefighters the emergency address, the emergency history of the address and other information such as how many victims on scene are trapped.

The system enables firefighters to spend less time trying to communicate over jammed radio frequencies, which Espinosa said gives an added advantage to safety personnel by keeping more sensitive information off the airwaves.

The system's mapping software helps prevent collisions with other units en route, and it also indicates the locations of fire hydrants, storm drains and pipelines.

That means the days of printouts and mapbooks are pretty much over.

"It's very user friendly, that's for sure," said Battalion Chief Troy Johnson. Espinosa, who used the equipment when he was in Long Beach's department, said the technology puts the department ahead of several others in the Inland Empire.

The department soon will have the systems on its medical units as well, he said.

The moves are a part of Espinosa's overall vision to move the department forward when it comes to using technology.

"Last year we purchased training software that decentralizes training," he said. "This allows us to take online classes that used to cause hours of class time and overtime."

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