Our view: Automation not quick fix, but long-term process that could save lives

— The Jamesville Volunteer Fire Department came under scrutiny last month when members took 13 minutes to respond to a burning van with a man trapped inside on the night of Aug. 21. The scene of the vehicle fire was .6 miles from the Jamesville fire station, but while volunteers scrambled to get to the station, then to the fire, paid DeWitt firefighters listened to the call on the scanner from the DeWitt firehouse, less than four miles away, ready to roll. DeWitt firefighters say they could have arrived on scene in six minutes if they’d been dispatched.

The driver of the van was identified yesterday as a 16-year-old Syracuse youth. The incident reminded us of a story we ran in The Eagle in June, when the Camillus Fire Department became the first volunteer outfit in the county to let the Onondaga County 911 system determine which neighboring departments should be called as mutual aid to structure fires based on proximity. (Prior to the switch, mutual aid was dispatched by the 911 center according to a plan established by the department chief, and backup beyond the first alarm was dispatched based on the nearest available equipment.)

The advantage of such a changeover is clear: use GPS to determine which available fire and rescue vehicles are closest to an incident, and eliminate any possible department rivalries, politics and prejudices that might have had an impact on who was called to which events.

Had the Jamesville Department established an automated GPS-based system for all calls, and not just structure fires, it’s reasonable to say that the DeWitt firefighters could have been on the scene in half the time it took the volunteers.

Carl Loerzel, deputy commissioner of the Department of Emergency Communications, said in June that although an automated GPS-based mutual aid system could get tricky when taking into account things like the fluctuating availabilities of many volunteer departments, the system could be set up to accommodate for those inconsistencies.

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