By John Schaffner

Station 21 firefighter John Rhodes demonstrates the new mobile data system that is on all fire trucks.

The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department has moved into the 21st century—or at least the late 20th century—with the installation of a computerized mobile data system in each piece of the department’s equipment.

The new computerized mobile data system went online in every piece of fire equipment in Atlanta in January, according to department spokeswoman Lt. Terese Hicks.

The major component of the system, according to Hicks, is the geographic positioning system or GPS, which provides a map and driving instructions on the computer screen in the cab of every fire truck.

The GPS allows firefighters “to respond to emergency calls more efficiently and quicker,” she said.

She said the mapping feature is particularly useful for firefighters filling in at a station where they are not normally assigned and where they might not be as familiar with the territory.

Up to the time of the installation of the new computerized system, firefighters have had to rely on regular map books of the city, many of which had torn pages. Some of the firefighters used their own cell phones to call up mapping software to help them find the best routes to emergencies. .

Hicks said the new mapping system is totally up to date. It even allows firefighters on a truck to see where they are when they are driving down the street.

Hicks said an automatic vehicle locator feature of the system tracks where all equipment is at all times—even when out of service.

With that feature, if a vehicle is in an area near an emergency, that unit can be located and called into service, even if the emergency is not within its normal coverage area, she explained.

The on-truck computers also allow the officers to do reports on the system, according to Lt. Hicks, rather than having to write them out, as they had to do in the past.

Asked if the system also allows the input of data on specific structures, such as high-rise office towers or condominium buildings to assist in fighting fires, Hicks said that is not part of the package.

She said, however, that each station does building familiarization studies and territory studies and those are reviewed with firefighters who are new to those stations. Included in those studies are the locations of fire hydrants on streets and within neighborhoods as well as fire-hose connections within major buildings.