G.I.S. Use in the Fire Service and
Emergency Medical Services
By Myron Messak, Fire Chief, Mayfield Fire District # 2, Mayfield, New York
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(Published by SpatialNews.com - Jan. 21, 2003) The expansion and exposure of the latest technology, the use of Global
Information Systems, is an ideal tool for improvements in firefighting and Emergency
Medical Services. G.I.S. has been used in the western part of the country for fighting
brush and forest fires for a number of years now showing itís potential as an invaluable
tool. This article will illustrate how G.I.S. and G.P.S. tools are being implemented in a
small county in upstate New York, from initial inception in a single fire district to
countywide expansion. Areas covered in this article include using G.I.S. in
Predetermined Helicopter Landing Zones, mapping a fire districts water sources, floor
plans of a building prior to a fire for use in fire fighting tactics, emergency preplanning in
the event of an evacuation in a natural disaster and having a preplan mapping all fire
departments in the county including available resources. This type of program can be
implemented and used by any Fire/E.M.S. community at a minimal expense.
The fire district described in this article is a rural community with a year round
population of approx. 6,400 residents and covering an area of approximately 64 square
miles. Included in this fire district is the largest manmade reservoir in the northeast, used
for recreation in summer and winter, resulting in the seasonal residence to triple in the
summer months. The closest trauma center is an hour by vehicle and a major state
highway also intersects this district.
The program started with implementing predetermined helicopter landing zones
in order to reduce the time to transport a patient to the nearest trauma center. The first
step was to contact the area medical helicopter evacuation center and ask them the criteria
required in a predetermined helicopter-landing zone. This is a must in developing a set of
standards to be used by all departments. The standards included a minimum area of 100
feet by 100 feet required for landing, the coordinate system used, different datumís give
different results, the landing surface the aircraft will be landing on, the nearest hazards,
such as power lines and trees, and the frequencies used by the pilot and the landing
officer. This is a lot of information needed in the middle of an emergency. Prior to this, if
a helicopter was needed a landing zone would have to be located at that point in time in a
middle of an emergency and usually in darkness. By using a G.P.S. and going around the
fire district looking for areas that meet these criteria in daylight and not under pressure of
an emergency. Once a site was located the Latitude and Longitude, the landing surface,
and potential hazards were recorded for computer input at a later time. This idea was
streamlined and polished with the help of the staff at the Spatial Information Technology
Center at Fulton-Montgomery Community College located in Johnstown New York.
Further information can be found in volume 4, issue 1, Fall/Winter issue of the
Geographic Information Systems Technology News, a newsletter published by the Office
For Technology. Refer to example one in this article for an actual printed map of a
This program was so well received that it is now being expanded to the 16 other
Fire/EMS Districts in the county. Each fire district was asked to locate four potential
landing zones meeting the criteria noted previously. Once located each department was
given a book with each of their landing zones. This information is also being given to the
Civil Defense/County Fire Coordinator and the Countyís E-911 Dispatch system.
By using a G.P.S. unit and going out into the rural district where water is a major
concern, known water sources were plotted and mapped. This has a number of
advantages, training in classroom, giving bordering fire districts the advantage of mutual
aid departments water sources information, and the county having information for all fire
department water sources in the event of a major catastrophe.
Refer to example 2, below.
In the event of a major fire in a large building a big advantage to the fire
department would know the interior layout of the building. Again using a G.P.S. or by
geocoding the building address, the building can be mapped on paper for water source
proximity. Another advantage is by clicking on the buildings symbol, floor plans can be
hot linked to give an AutoCAD drawing of the interior. Refer to example Three.
Another example is preplanning for a manmade natural disaster, a Dam failure.
By digitizing the potential flood area along with geocoded names, addresses, and
telephone numbers of individual residents in that affected area, a controlled and planned
evacuation can be initiated. Refer to example four.
As a preplanning tool each fire department, ambulance service, and law
enforcement station was also mapped and by using a hot link each stations available
resources can be made available by a click of a button. This is an invaluable tool in the
event mutual aid is needed from one fire department to another to coordinate available
resources. Countywide resources and location of these resources give the county
coordinator and E-911 dispatch invaluable information, dispatching and staging of
resources becomes more effective. This information could include number and types of
apparatus available, number of generators, emergency medical trained personnel, etc.
Refer to example Five.
In conclusion, as shown in this article, G.I.S. has a definite place in emergency
management services. There are various software packages available that would be able
to accomplish this program. Much, if not all of the above can ultimately be accomplished
at a minimal cost with major benefits.
This information was presented at the 18th Annual NYS GIS Conference in
October, 2002 in Liverpool, New York.
Myron Messak, Fire Chief
Mayfield Fire District # 2