Locators Pinpoint Position of Trucks

August Chronicle
By Preston Sparks| Columbia County Bureau Chief

Satellites hundreds of miles away in space are keeping Columbia County residents safer in the event of a fire or medical emergency, officials say.

Soon, that same technology might be used to speed up response times in Richmond County, too.

It's all part of a new computer software system that Martinez-Columbia Fire Rescue began using recently to track fire trucks with global positioning system transmitters, which are part of a satellite-based navigation system.

GPS locators and the new software, from the company Spillman Technologies, provide dispatchers with the exact location of fire trucks with seven-second updates on a digital map of the county.

Martinez-Columbia officials say the software cuts in half the time it takes to receive a call and then dispatch a truck to a burning home or person in distress.

That saves an average of about 1 minutes per call.

“If you've ever been through a CPR class, you know every millisecond is crucial,'' said Jeremy Wallen, an IT administrator for Martinez-Columbia, which responds to both fire and medical calls as a first responder.

Mr. Wallen said that before the software was instituted, dispatchers were using pen and paper to take down a call, and fire truck drivers had a thick paper map book to flip through for directions.

Now dispatchers type the address of a call into the system, and it immediately offers suggestions on which truck is closest and gives the driver map directions to the location via a laptop computer mounted inside the truck.

Martinez-Columbia has 20 trucks, Mr. Wallen said. Since September, GPS locators and laptops have been installed and, on Wednesday, Martinez-Columbia officials equipped the last two trucks.

The cost to implement the new process was about $200,000, Mr. Wallen said, adding that costs were kept low because much of the work was conducted in-house.

He said leftover fire-subscription fees paid for the improvement.

“At this point in time, we're the only ones in this area that have it,'' Mr. Wallen said of the software.

The Augusta Fire Department is planning to join Martinez-Columbia soon with a similar setup.

“I would venture to say probably within the next four to six months hopefully we'll have something on board and it will be similar to what Martinez has,'' said Augusta Deputy Chief Mike Rogers. “It will have the same capabilities, but there will be some enhancements that we will ask for.''

Deputy Chief Rogers said the cost is being negotiated.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office also is examining such tracking capabilities for its patrol cars, but an exact time frame hasn't been determined.

Mr. Wallen said the new software and GPS capability radically change the way Martinez-Columbia responds to fires and medical emergencies.

“It's really where everything is going,'' he said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.