California Foundation Seeks to Equip Rural Fire Apparatus with Tracking Systems

A local foundation is on a mission to equip every rural fire engine and emergency vehicle with a GPS device that will allow dispatchers to track their locations and better determine who is nearest to an emergency.

Earlier this year a San Diego Fire Department engine was returning to its station in the city after having spent the day helping put out a fire on the desert floor as part of the region’s mutual aide program. As the fire crew was driving through Ramona on state Route 78, a man in the area suffered a heart attack.

Because all city fire trucks are equipped with Automatic Vehicle Locators — a GPS-based system that enables dispatchers to instantly know where each fire truck is — the engine was diverted to the medical call.

The heart attack victim was able to receive medical attention substantially quicker, said Frank Ault, chairman of the nonprofit San Diego Regional Fire Foundation, which wants to make AVL systems available in 220 vehicles in the rural areas of the county.

AVL is used by most San Diego County cities in the urban areas but not in rural fire districts such as Valley Center and Ramona. Cal Fire engines also lack the equipment as do all backcountry volunteer department trucks and vehicles.

Ault’s fire foundation has raised and distributed about $4.3 million over the past 23 years to help volunteer fire departments.

It will cost roughly $250,000 to equip all rural engines and other fire vehicles with the AVL devices and connect them to the dispatch system. Each unit costs about $1,200.

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