4 Wis. FDs using GPS to determine response instead of jurisdiction

The departments began last week using automatic vehicle locator technology to dispatch first responders based on which vehicles are closest to incidents


Ashley McCallum
The Janesville Gazette, Wis.

ROCK COUNTY, Wis. — Officials from four Rock County fire departments think breaking down borders between communities will save lives.

Janesville, Beloit, town of Beloit and Milton fire departments are now using GPS technology to determine which department responds to incidents based on actual location instead of jurisdiction.

Janesville, Beloit, town of Beloit and Milton fire departments are now using GPS technology to determine which department responds to incidents based on actual location instead of jurisdiction. (Photo/Rock County Communications Center)
Janesville, Beloit, town of Beloit and Milton fire departments are now using GPS technology to determine which department responds to incidents based on actual location instead of jurisdiction. (Photo/Rock County Communications Center)

Officials announced the partnership Monday at a press conference at the Rock County 911 Communications Center.

The departments began last week using automatic vehicle locator technology to dispatch first responders based on which vehicles are closest to incidents, said Dan Pease, interim fire chief for the Beloit Fire Department.

With this system, if a fire breaks out at a home in Janesville and three fire engines and two ambulances are needed, the system would find the nearest engines and ambulances and send them.

That means engines and ambulances from each of the four departments might get the first call.

In the past, the call would immediately go to whichever fire department has jurisdiction over the incident location, and that department could call others for mutual aid if needed.

Janesville Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes said it doesn’t matter which words are on the side of a fire engine during an emergency. What matters is that people receive high-quality care as quickly as possible, he said.

Town of Beloit Fire Chief Gene Wright said the system already has been used twice in the town.

In one incident, a fire started on a property behind the town of Beloit fire station but in the city of Beloit’s jurisdiction.

Typically, the city would receive the first call. But in this case, the town fire department was able to get there first, Wright said.

Wright estimates crews responded to a fire at Rockvale Mobile Home Park on Saturday 10 to 15 minutes faster than usual because Beloit and Janesville departments were called out first instead of the town of Beloit.

The new system is a step toward creating a countywide network of fire and EMT services, Wright said.

All four chiefs said they hope all 11 Rock County fire departments will eventually join the system.

Thousands of departments across the country use this technology, which has been around for about 20 years, Rhodes said.

The Janesville Fire Department spent about $30,000 to install an updated internet router for the system. The new router will also allow Janesville to connect to a national disaster network in case of a major emergency, which was not possible before, Rhodes said.

The Beloit Fire Department already had the necessary equipment and did not have additional costs, Pease said.

Milton Joint Fire Commission member Theresa Rusch said the new response system will answer some questions the commission has regarding where it should build a new fire station.

The Milton Fire Department for years has said its station on Madison Avenue is inadequate.

The joint fire commission, which represents the city of Milton and town of Milton, has grappled with the question of where a new fire station, or stations, should be located to best serve the city and town.

It’s too early to spot any trends as to which areas benefit most from the new system, Rhodes said.

Rhodes said he is not concerned Janesville’s resources will be spread too thin because Janesville likely would have responded to the same incidents to provide mutual aid.

The departments now are working on preemptively creating solutions for potential problems.

The departments have the ability to clear calls and send for different departments if they believe the system dispatched the wrong vehicles.

So far, that has not happened, said Brian Becker, operations manager for the communications center.

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©2020 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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