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Posted February 21, 2011 EST

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Three Area Volunteer Fire Departments Use GPS
United States (West Virginia) - That's how much extra time the Granville Volunteer Fire Department spent trying to find Sunset Lane, a short roadway off Eastern Avenue, following a recent fire call. No one was injured in the small porch blaze, which other units responded to, but the incident highlighted Granville's need for some sort of GPS navigation system.

"With all the new developments coming in, there are things popping up everywhere," Granville VFD Chief Butch Renner said. "It would definitely cut down on response time."

Volunteer firefighters in both Granville and Cheat Lake are seeking new technology to improve service and save lives. At least three local volunteer fire departments are already using GPS equipment, but others say it's unnecessary.

Craig Edmond, a Cheat Lake firefighter, said the department is working with the Cheat Lake Rotary Club to get four mounted and four handheld GPS units. Each will likely cost $100-$400, but they'll be used for more than just locating accidents and fires.

"We do a lot of search and rescue at Coopers Rock," Edmond said, noting that MECCA 911 could provide GPS coordinates to help locate lost hikers. "I've been with the fire department for 33 years, but when I'm at Coopers Rock, I still get lost."

Edmond said GPS will also be useful on rural routes late at night.

"Road names are hard to find. Addresses are hard to see," Edmond said. "In some places, you have to go a couple miles before you can turn around."

Renner planned to purchase an Apple iPad this week that Granville firefighters could use to pull up GPS navigation, locate fire hydrants and download training tools, among other things. A $1,500 grant from Walmart helped pay for the $600 device.

"It's a lot more versatile" than a standard GPS unit, Renner said. "Instead of having one thing on there, it will be multifunctional."

Renner said Granville firefighters know their own area pretty well, but they are increasingly called upon to assist other fire departments.

"Now you're having to learn a lot more countywide," he said. "You can't expect everybody to know the entire county."

Other departments

The Star City VFD purchased three mounted GPS units last fall to help firefighters -- including 12-15 WVU students who volunteer -- locate fires and other emergencies.

"We wanted to try to decrease our response times," Capt. Donald Dulaney said. "We have a lot of new streets that aren't even on maps yet."

But the Blacksville and River Road VFDs use their GPS systems primarily to provide coordinates to Health-Net -- an emergency helicopter service. Blacksville Chief Bob Brookover said Health-Net can't follow the same turnby-turn directions provided to other emergency officials, so the fire department purchased two GPS units for its rescue vehicles two years ago.

Each unit cost $200-$250. They're used about once a month, but not to find fires or vehicle accidents.

"We pretty much know the area," said Brookover, who has lived in Blacksville his entire life. "If I don't, somebody does."

River Road firefighter Todd Obrad said the same thing. The River Road VFD has a handheld GPS unit it has used to help land Health-Net and determine the size of brush fires for about five years, but it's not used to locate emergencies.

"We usually know where we're going," Obrad said.

The Cool Springs VFD doesn't have GPS equipment and doesn't need it, Assistant Chief J.R. Murray said.

"We've got a small area, so we haven't really thought about it," Murray said. " Pretty much everyone's lived up here their whole life and they know the area."

Cool Springs is occasionally dispatched to assist other agencies, and its members typically rely on directions from MECCA 911 in those situations, Murray said.

The Morgantown Fire Department doesn't use GPS, either. Chief Mark Caravasos said firefighters are tested regularly to make sure they know the city's streets, which rarely change.

But he said GPS would be useful in other areas.

"Out in the county, there's so many roads and developments cropping up, GPS would be a good way to keep track and find things," Caravasos said.

Members of the Cassville, Brookhaven, Clinton District, Triune-Halleck, Wadestown and Westover VFDs could not be reached or did not return calls to The Dominion Post in time for this report.

Written by The Dominion Post

Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix


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