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  • FDNY Mobile Recovery Database
  • G.I.S. Use in the Fire Service and Emergency Medical Services

    By Myron Messak, Fire Chief, Mayfield Fire District # 2, Mayfield, New York

    Printer Friendly Version
    (Published by - 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 landing zone.


    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.

    Contact Information:
    Myron Messak, Fire Chief
    Mayfield Fire District # 2

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