This Texas fire department worked closely with the city's IT department to spec a state-of-the-art command vehicle.
In 1916, fire devastated most of downtown Frisco, Texas — a mere two years after the city's fire department was founded. The incident highlighted the department's need for improved firefighting capabilities, and it's a lesson that department members heed to this day.
To that end, Frisco became the second city in Texas and one of only 60 departments in the United States to receive the Insurance Service Office's Class 1 public-protection rating. The department's Safety Town, a miniature version of Frisco used for public education, opened in 2007. More than 100,000 people have passed through since then.
And when the department opened a new emergency operations center to better serve area residents, Chief Mack Borchardt agreed to add a supporting mobile command center to Frisco's fleet. During an 18-month period, Borchardt and the apparatus committee visited other fire departments and vendors to determine what components would fit Frisco's needs best. They determined that their first priority would be to integrate the EOC's capabilities with the mobile command unit. And to do that, they called in Frisco's information-technology department.
“In our process of implementing a new digital radio system, we hired consultants to help us with that radio system and our own IT department offered their input,” he said.
Bells and Whistles
The result was a $1.5 million command vehicle deemed “the most sophisticated and advanced mobile command vehicle we have ever produced,” said Wilson Jones, president of.
The vehicle is a 34H-foot-long aluminum walk-in command body with an 87I-inch interior walkway height. It also has three slide-out modules for additional room. Total interior floor space with slide-out rooms extended is more than 315 square feet. The conference room has six individual workstations, two with full dispatch capabilities.
“There are less seats and less space in the command vehicle, but capabilities are very similar to the EOC within the station,” Borchardt said. “In the field it can integrate the radios from anybody we would be called to operate with.”
State-of-the-art communications equipment includes a video teleconferencing system and an 800 MHz digital radio system provides interoperable communications. Twenty video displays are mounted throughout the apparatus, including a 42-inch screen mounted outside the vehicle for incident team briefings. The vehicle also can boost signals for better coverage and enhanced communications services.
The rig includes portable thermal-imaging camera receivers, a mast-mounted thermal imaging camera and a mast-mounted high-definition camera to assess emergency situations quickly.
Borchardt credits Frisco's IT department with developing the technology that gives the chief's car and command vehicles access to public works, schools and other city agencies, as well as to cameras that monitor the city in real time.
“We talked to our IT department to integrate all the preplanning data from all the city agencies,” he said. “We brought in the police network and let our IT department develop a real-time, integrated system.”
One unique option of Frisco's mobile command center is its Situational Awareness for First Responders system. SAFER offers advanced video-streaming capabilities that will be used for a program developed by the fire department and the Frisco School District. The system enables the mobile command center to receive live, streaming video from any of the security cameras located in Frisco's 36 schools. The same streaming video soon will be available through feeds from all 200 of the city's pan-tilt-zoom traffic-monitoring cameras.
“A local television affiliate looked at our EOC and pointed us in the direction of what the television stations are using for their staff in the field,” Borchardt said. “The TV station had a Streambox [system] that sent images to the source or back to their television station. Now we have [a system] that sends back even faster than their system, so we can send images back to the EOC from in the field. That has proved really successful.
“In the event of an emergency, we'll have access to live video from inside schools and be able to share this footage with our emergency operations center and all first responders for an extra level of security to protect our kids,” he continues. “When the traffic cameras are online, we'll be able to pinpoint and assess storm damage or other emergency information more quickly and accurately. This will provide our citizens with a new level of service and support.”
Frisco's traffic-control department initially installed standard traffic cameras, but when the fire department designed the EOC, it requested the PTZ cameras. Standard traffic control uses four fixed cameras, but by adding a fifth camera that can be controlled by the EOC, emergency operations can be monitored and dispatch accordingly.
“Similarly, we can send images in the field from our hazmat truck, the heavy rescue truck and the command vehicle to the EOC,” Borchardt said. “I suspect what we have here in Frisco is unprecedented.”