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7 steps to implement automated dispatch in your fire department

Dispatch technology can revolutionize the way you call your firefighters to service, no matter where they are and what type of device they’re using


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7 steps to implement automated dispatch in your fire department

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Would your fire department like to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its process for alerting members of a call for service? Would your department like those members to have location information, including GIS maps and routing to the call? Here are seven steps to improving your current dispatching process with technology.

1. Know what you want to improve in the dispatch process

Do you want the ability to provide information to your firefighters so that they can respond to the scene? Are you looking for redundancy to reduce the risk of staff not receiving the dispatch information via your radio system (due to a power failure, radio tower failure or a unit being in a radio dead spot)?

Automated dispatch system technology gives your department options and enables individual members to determine how they want to receive alarm notifications. (Photo/CalFire.ca.gov)
Automated dispatch system technology gives your department options and enables individual members to determine how they want to receive alarm notifications. (Photo/CalFire.ca.gov)

2. Identify the features that fit your department

Today’s technology gives your department the capability to take your current voice dispatch and automatically turn it into a notification that your members can receive on their personnel wireless phones, tablets or landlines as a text message, an exact repeat of the voice dispatch or a notification to a proprietary app on their phone.

The technology should be seamless. The last thing you want to do is add steps to your dispatching process – or increase the workload on your dispatch staff (who are likely already overworked and under-staffed). The automated dispatching system you select should require no additional steps on anyone’s part to make it work.

Look for a vendor who also offers apps for wireless devices – for both Android and iOS operating systems – that essentially enable a member’s wireless device to function like a radio pager. The app should give them the ability to have the voice dispatch repeated, provide mapping and routing information, and have live streaming of your department’s dispatch radio (a one-way radio with no additional cost).

3. Know how you want to use dispatch technology

Who will receive the alerts? What does your department expect individual members to do with the information? Particularly in volunteer fire departments, do you want personnel responding to the scene or responding to the fire station to staff and respond with fire apparatus?

Automated dispatch system technology gives your department options and enables individual members to determine how they want to receive alarm notifications (e.g., text message, voice transmission or through an app).

4. Look for automated dispatch system technology you can use daily

Imagine your department’s system administrator being able to use your automated dispatch system for non-emergency tasks as well as emergency call dispatch. Just a few examples of when this might be useful include:

  • Notifying personnel of upcoming training classes.
  • Communicating changes to scheduled events.
  • Providing updates on preparation for an approaching storm.
  • Knowing who is available prior to calls for service or during calls for service.

5. Don’t invest in technology, invest in the service

Buying your own equipment is passé. Look for companies who provide the hardware and software – as well as the maintenance – for a service fee. You want the technology without the headaches.

6. Don’t forget price and scalability

Look for a vendor who will scale their pricing schedule to your department’s size. Also, look for a vendor who offers a free trial period (at least 30 days) before you must commit, and one that doesn’t require a contract for their services.

7. Look for a vendor with a proven record of service

Ask the company for client references and then be sure to contact them. Also, do your due diligence by searching out a couple of the vendor’s clients that aren’t on their list to gain some additional – and perhaps un-coached – perspectives. And be sure to ask them about the company’s record of service after the sale.

Today’s automated dispatch technology has a great deal to offer to fire department leaders who are looking to make improvements in how they notify members of a call for service. And it can be done without the department having to purchase expensive hardware for its dispatch center or additional equipment for its members in the field.

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