Firefighting? There's an App for That: Bell County VFDs Go Mobil - kcentv.com - KCEN HD - Waco, Temple, and Killeen

Firefighting? There's an App for That: Bell County VFDs Go Mobile

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(KCEN) - Firefighting? There's an app for that.

A new smartphone application is proving useful for volunteer departments in our area.

It's a way not only to get information from 911 dispatchers, but to organize that info and figure out how to respond.

Everyone uses smartphones for everything. Tanya Borders and the rest of Little River-Academy's Volunteer Fire Department use them to fight fires.

"We're actually saving a lot more time," she said, "and not tying up communications."

It's an app called Active911, an Oregon-based alternative to the old school scanners and radios.

"This alleviates a lot of our problems trying to get information on the radio," said David Borders, LRA VFD's chief, "especially when you have multiple calls going on and several departments trying to get information at the same time."

Plus the small nonprofit department doesn't have a lot of radios to begin with. And the pagers are pricey.

You get all of the same information on the app that you would get on the digital pagers they use, but instead of going to the outdated devices, it goes to smartphones. And the calls actually come in quicker to the cell phones.

We did a little test at the fire station. We had Tanya send a test alert to all of the members, with both her and David's phones nearby.

It took about six seconds to get the alert on David's phone, and another four seconds for Tanya's. That can be several minutes less than waiting for radio traffic.

And it's not any more difficult for dispatchers. They typically already send email and fax alerts.

"Normally, they don't have to do anything extra," said Tyler Lyman, who works for Active911 in Oregon, in a phone interview. "We repackage it and send it out to our apps."

And it makes the volunteer firefighters' jobs that much easier.

"You get more information over the phone than you do the radio. You kind of got a better idea of what you're walking into," said LRA VFD Capt. Jimmy Snowden.

Plus, pretty much everyone will see every alert.

"Everybody always has the cell phone on them," Tanya Borders said.

Troy VFD is also using the app. After a trial period, it costs $10 per phone per year.

Bigger departments in Texas are also getting into the tech game. Bexar County, the area that encompasses San Antonio, uses the app for all of its associated departments.

Part of the appeal is it does a lot more than just distribute information.

"It's just a great app to have on such a small budget," said Josh Peters, deputy chief for LRA VFD.

Peters is an EMT in Coryell County, in addition to his volunteer role in Little River. He set up the Active911 system for the department a little more than a month ago, and said Coryell County EMS is looking into the service as well.

"This is the stepping stone for technology in the fire and EMS fields," he said.

Members can update their status right from the app. The whole department knows who's responding, who's unavailable, and where they are.

"We can track that fire truck while it's in movement by the GPS on that phone," Snowden said.

It also gives driving directions for the hard-to-find addresses, a handy tool at 2 a.m.

One of most useful things it does for rural departments is it maps out where all of their different hydrants are, and sends that information to the maps portion of the app when they get a call.

"Takes a lot of the guesswork out," David Borders said.

The company says LRA is one of 7,000-8,000 departments nationwide using the app. In the year it's been available, they've dispatched for 16.5 million calls to 150,000 users, totaling 180 million messages across the country.

"We're not actually a primary paging source," Lyman said. "We provide a lot of supplemental information."

But for departments like Little River, it's faster, more efficient, and keeps them better-connected.

"It's a game-changer is what it is," Peters said.

And when the game is saving lives, these guys will take any advantage they can get.
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