Firefighting, Leadership

Williamson County Fire Protection District Wins Grant for NowForce Dispatching System

The Williamson County Fire Protection District (WCFPD) of southern Illinois has been awarded a grant of a mobile emergency dispatch system by the National Firefighters Endowment, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the lives of our firefighters, and NowForce, a developer of comprehensive mobile emergency response solutions.
 
Covering 265 square miles, WCFPD is one of the largest fire districts in Illinois, and responds to several hundred calls a year. The grant will provide WCFPD with NowForce’s emergency response mobile apps and a web-based dispatching portal, which locates and dispatches the closest available firefighters to nearby incidents. The company’s solutions are used by public safety organizations around the world to reduce response times and maximize situational awareness.
 
When a call comes in to 911, the fire department has the option of either executing a general call-out or automatically dispatching the nearest responders to an incident. For volunteer departments, the system features enhanced privacy settings, through which the command center can “see” all potential responders on a map, however each is shown as “anonymous” until he/she has accepted an incident,  explained Assaf Shafran, NowForce CEO.
 
“I saw the National Firefighters Endowment post about the contest and I looked at the technology and I thought this was something that can really help us in our response times,” said WCFPD Lieutenant Mike Leuchtenberg, a career firefighter who also runs the department’s social media presence.
 
The contest ran for three weeks through the NFE and NowForce Facebook pages. Entrants were asked to fill out a brief application form, and then solicited votes from their communities. Over 20 departments, mostly from the United States but a few from around the world, applied for the grant. Voting ended yesterday, with Williamson County receiving the most.
 
Leuchtenberg used the WCFPD’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to engage his community and garner its support for the contest, in addition to calling on local media outlets. WSIL-TV, an ABC affiliate in southern Illinois, ran a news piece on the contest, in which Leuchtenberg explained to viewers how the technology can help the community.
 
“Since narrow banding, we have struggled with radio coverage from our single repeater, which means some firefighters miss tone-outs or they cannot understand them due to poor audio quality,” explained Leuchtenberg. “The grant for this system will help to ensure a safe and rapid response to all calls in this large rural area.”
 
“Williamson County Fire is a great example to the fire service on effectively using new media to engage the support of their local community,” said National Firefighters Endowment’s president, Shane Parkins. “They are not only committed to providing their neighbors with the highest caliber of service and protection, but they are adept at connecting with the people they serve. Ultimately, it was the vote of their community that earned them this grant. The people of Williamson County truly understand the importance of supporting their local fire department.”
 
“We’re thrilled so many departments took part in this program,” said Shafran. “It was great to see their efforts in ‘getting out the vote’ to their communities, and Williamson County, in particular, did an outstanding job in this regard. We are excited to help them roll out the system in southern Illinois.”
 
The company’s customers include law enforcement and campus and private security organizations, as well as volunteer EMS and fire departments who boast response times of 2-3 minutes, far below the national averages. The system has been used for public safety resource management at several other large events, including the 2013 AT&T National Golf Tournament, the Euro2012 soccer games and other smaller events around the world, Shafran added.