The Sugar Land (Texas) Fire Department recently spent $75,000 to upgrade its fire station alerting system to an IP-based system. The system replaced an 18-year-old Zetron system that required constant tweaking by the IT department to keep it up and running, according Asst. Chief Jeff Krehmeier.

Krehmeier said the department’s IT team noticed a higher failure rate with the aging Zetron Model 6/26 system after they upgraded its Tiburon computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system from the Phoenix to the 2000 product line. After the upgrade, the Zetron system would fail at the most inopportune time and “sometimes it would happen a couple of times a day,” he said.

Krehmeier said the department received three bids in response to an RFP and chose Zetron’s IP Fire Station Alerting System (IP FSA) mainly because it already interfaced with the department’s Tiburon CAD system. The IP FSA is a software-based system that sends audio or data alerts from the dispatch center to six fire stations over the city’s fiber-optic IP network, letting an operator deploy a fire truck, an ambulance and one or more fire stations almost simultaneously, he said.

The IP FSA sends alerts via IP to each fire station that is tracked by the dispatch center, said Dave De Long, Zetron’s vice president of product management and business development. Alert information is sent via IP packets and then the incident information typically goes out over the PA system at the fire station, he said. It also supports two-way signaling between the fire station and the dispatch center. For example, the center can initiate an alert to the station and then equipment status can be translated back to dispatch.

“So when [fire engines] leave on a response, they can indicate their status and then dispatch can see that on their screen,” he said.

In addition, the system automatically polls fire stations at regular intervals, so dispatchers know whether each is online. It also provides automatic alert success and failure-of-delivery indications, De Long said.

Having the software interface with the CAD to seamlessly share data was critical, but so was reliability, Krehmeier said. He urged that decision-makers to vet vendors’ products to ensure systems interface with existing CAD systems. At Sugar Land, the IT team was able to test the IP FSA system in parallel with the older model to ensure it worked with the CAD system before deployed at the dispatch center.

"So it was already tried-and-tested before it was even installed,” Krehmeier said.