By John Schaffner

The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department is losing its chief, Kelvin Cochran, to the Obama administration as he becomes U.S. fire administrator, but it is gaining mobile data system units in all fire apparatus by November, according to Deputy Chief Huley Barry Dodson Jr.

One big benefit of the new mobile data system units is that they come with real-time GPS. Up to now, Atlanta firefighters have had to rely on map books — many with torn pages — or their personal phones with GPS options to guide them on calls to some lesser-known streets in Buckhead and elsewhere in Atlanta.

“Firsthand knowledge of the territory,” Dodson said, is still the best of all systems. “GPS is just another resource to get personnel from Point A to Point B.”

But the 32-year Atlanta force veteran acknowledged that, as in the case of Station 21 on Roswell Road in Buckhead, the personnel can change, and that firsthand knowledge goes away.

At Station 21, the loss of local knowledge came when it recently changed over to a special response unit.

Dodson said the mobile data system will provide firefighters a great deal more information that will help them in fighting fires and dealing with emergency medical situations. The system can protect them from blindly entering extremely hazardous fire situations.

Dodson said the computerized mobile data system, which the department has worked on for close to three years, will show firefighters the floor plan and footprints of commercial buildings where they are responding to a fire, as well as technical information on the buildings based on reports from fire inspections, including where any hazardous materials may be stored.

The deputy chief said the mobile data unit hardware has been received and is being installed right now on the department’s engines and trucks. He said it already has been installed in the chiefs’ cars. After the hardware is installed, the software will be put online and become operational by November, he predicted.

Meanwhile, with the start of the city’s new fiscal year July 1, furloughs in the Fire Rescue Department came to an end, and Engine Company 23, which is stationed on Howell Mill Road at Chattahoochee Avenue, went back into service July 9 after being closed down since December because of budget cuts.