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GPS replaces maps for Lathrop-Manteca firefighting crews
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LATHROP – Pulling maps to chart their path to a call is a thing of the past for the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.

Thanks to being selected as one of the recipients of the Assistance to Firefighters Grants from the Department of Homeland Security, each of the engines and vehicles utilized by the district are now outfitted with a global positioning system connected to the San Joaquin County dispatch center that completely changes the way that calls are responded to.

The system – complete with touch-screen computers valued at thousands of dollars each that are mobile – is expected to save significant time while responding to calls by offering information often not given in radio calls regarding the situation while giving turn-by-turn directions.

“There are still parts of the district where building is going on and there are new roads that are going in and that takes some getting used to when you’re trying to remember where you’re going,” said Lathrop Fire Chief Gene Neely. “With this system it shows us exactly where to go and how far it’s going to be, and it knows which unit is the closest to the call and it dispatches them which is important.

“Before, we had stations that responded to calls that were in their area even if they were on the extreme other side of the area and we had a unit closer because we didn’t have all of that knowledge. Now we do, and we can get people there quicker.”

In all, more than 50 of the mobile units were purchased with the grant money throughout San Joaquin County. Roughly one-third of those – 14 in all – ended up on rigs in the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District to help enhance navigation capabilities.

But the system provides a lot more than just turn-by-turn directions.

When a call comes across, information about the location – which can include past history, pre-fire plans and layouts of the area and special notes that could be beneficial to the safety of the firefighters – is included in the file that is sent to each of the units in the district. When available, additional patient history is sent, and detailed information regarding the accident scene is included to allow for a plan to be formulated before anybody even arrives on scene.

“When we respond to an accident and I know how many vehicles are involved and how many patients, I can start directing who is going to go where when they arrive on-scene before the engine even pulls up,” Neely said. “It’s an incredible tool to have at our disposal, especially in the age of staffing shortages and when every second is key.”

Neely – who seldom rides on engines and conducts his business out of a battalion vehicle – can also see the location of units under his command, just like those at the dispatch center that can decide who to send on a given call. With just a few touches of the screen, he can see where every unit that gets dispatch calls from San Joaquin County is physically at any given time. The information proves invaluable when needing to call for mutual aid from another jurisdiction.

The value of the units and the software extends into the tens of thousands of dollars, and the district only had to pay for secondary items like the mounts and the charging systems that help operate the juice-heavy items while on the road so that the battery isn’t drastically impacted.

“It’s really going to change a lot of the ways that we used to do things,” Neely said. “And in the way that it’ll benefit us and the public that we serve, that’s a good thing.”