Four Massachusetts fire control centers have deployed Cisco Systems' IP Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS) to provide interoperable voice communications between the entities today and serve as the foundation for new levels of data interoperability in the future.

The Massachusetts townships of Ashland, Beverly, Lawrence and Westford serve as the four fire districts in the northeast portion of the state, with each district serving multiple communities, Westford Fire Chief Richard Roshon said. The districts have had common mutual-aid channels for their radio systems, but the IPICS system also quickly enables voice interoperability with landline, cellular and IP telephony phones.

“What the IPICS system allows us to do is to create our own talk groups that then bridge the four fire control points together on those mutual-aid channels,” Roshon said. “Thus, we can actually end up talking to 60 communities in just a short amount of time — a couple of mouse clicks, and we've got a talk group established.”

Roshon said the Massachusetts fire districts also considered solutions from M/A-COM and Motorola, but opted for IPICS because of “substantial” cost savings and ease of operations.

“Certainly, when a large incident is going on, we want to look at the ability to make things simple when you have a lot of complex things happening at a particular point in time,” he said.

Also attractive is the future flexibility IPICS offers, Roshon said. In subsequent phases, the Massachusetts system hopes to add additional fire users and other first-responder agencies, as well as integrate microwave backhaul to supply another form of redundancy, he said. Eventually, the goal is to add interoperable data and video applications to the system — notions that are increasingly part of the vendor's talks with IPICS customers, said Mark Weidick, vice president and general manager of safety and security systems for Cisco.

“It's that type of dialogue,” Weidick said. “It's positive regarding what they have, but it's this vision of what's possible that we inevitably end up discussing.”

Weidick said the Cisco IPICS solution has been used in more than 70 deployments worldwide.