AVL: Taking the fun out of being "almost there"
The first generation of mobile data computers required the officer or operator to push a button to indicate status of the company:
Enroute, On Scene, Available On Radio (AOR), Available In Quarters (AIQ)
(Clark Martin photo via Chris Fox)
There was a shock of recognition while visiting a San Francisco fire station. A large sign on the alarm room door asked "R U AIQ?" – I knew exactly what it meant.
Your location was identified by the engine company first due district that was entered by the company officer. The computer-aided dispatch (CAD) program would send the nearest units based on their engine first due location.
"I AM CLOSER"
Some departments would experience a lot of radio chatter when a potential working fire was dispatched. Companies not assigned to the incident would announce that they were closer to the incident than the company assigned.
The MDTs reduced radio chatter. But not the inherent desire to go where the action is.
It probably took 90 seconds for a firefighter to figure out how to manipulate the first MDT to get on the call by updating their location well before they were in that district.
I remember running to the EMS supervisor buggy after hearing a first due engine reporting "smoke in the sky" as they pulled out of their house. I quickly changed my status from AIQ at 14 to AOR in 32 – while sitting on 14's front ramp. Just in time to be part of a second alarm assignment to a commercial fire.
In that era, dispatch protocol assigned one ems supervisor to second alarm structure fires. One of the few opportunities to smell smoke. I ran the rehab sector.
It did not always work to your favor.
Central Library Fire
Los Angeles had a major emergency at the Central Library. Dispatched at 10:52 am, the April 29, 1986, fire was not declared under control until 6:30 pm.
One of the engine companies that was on the street but not assigned to the incident went AOR in Station 3's district, the first due company to the fire.
It was quite a long-nosed stretch, as they would need to pass two fire stations before entering 3's district.
As soon as the officer entered that they were AOR in district 03 they were dispatched … to a medical emergency two blocks from the library fire. First of many ems first-responder runs for that company all around the library fire.
Updated Every 10 Seconds
The Houston Fire Department was an early adopter of Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) technology and linking unit coordinates with the CAD and digitized mapping software. It would not send a fire company on moderate-to-minor ems incidents if an ambulance would arrive first. If the ambulance would arrive two or more minutes after the nearest fire company, the fire company would be dispatched to provide medical first response.
End of first due districts?
Fifty years ago most fire companies would rarely travel beyond their third due district – the geographical area where they would be the third arriving engine if all units were in their quarters.
Today fire companies are on the road more, travelling to farther places and engaged in a wider variety of activities. What used to be their exclusive turf is handled by other companies because the first due engine is on a medical assist or hazardous condition investigation.
What does that mean when considering area familiarization?
Anyone developed a way to "long-nose" an AVL system?
Mike "FossilMedic" Ward