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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

County fire departments set up new alarm system

Monday, August 14, 2006

In a house fire, every second counts.

That's why changes in the way fire departments are dispatched have been made.

When a building fire was called in to dispatch in the past, the fire department in that area was sent out. Upon their arrival, the firefighter who took command of the scene had to notify dispatchers if any other fire departments needed to be sent out as well.

This wasted critical time, especially if additional water and man power were needed.

Now, Putnam County is the second or third county in the state to implement a new fire alarm system. This system is called the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS for short.

At the beginning of the year, the area fire chiefs met with Jim Schabbel from Clay Fire Territory, north of South Bend, where the system was first implemented and has had much success. The system has also been successful in Illinois where it is used by all of the state's fire departments.

Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent said that everybody was on board with the idea.

The system breaks down each township into residential and commercial areas, along with hydrant and non-hydrant areas. Each fire department is given a series of numbers that represent that area's alarm boxes.

Each MABAS card has seven alarm categories which lists what emergency vehicles need to the respond to the scene and which need to cover the main department's station. So it is all pre-determined.

Van Bibber Lake Fire Chief Greg Lang said, "Its better to utilize what the county has to offer instead of it sitting around in the barns."

When dispatchers tone out for a building fire, all fire departments are notified. This allows for those departments who are assisting to reach their department and ready the emergency vehicles. It also helps the commanding officer know who is coming if a second or third alarm is pulled.

Every firefighter must know their box alarm numbers and when they might be toned out to assist.

MABAS makes not only the commanding officer's job easier, but it also makes the dispatchers job easier.

911 Director Dave Costin told the BannerGraphic instead of the dispatchers second guessing themselves or attempting to write down what resources are needed, "its all brought up on the software.

"The dispatcher can bring it up, check list who they are sending, send it, and it is just that easy," said Costin.

MABAS has been used a total of four times. The first was a fire in Washington Township, the second was in Jackson Township, the third was on SR 240, and the fourth was in Clinton Township.

Dispatchers were generally surprised the system worked that easy when they used it for the first time.

Even though the fire departments are still gettting used to the system, they cannot stop praising it.

Russellville Fire Chief Mark Rossok said his department has had some training on it, but it is all going positive.

"It's going to be a good system," he said.

Cloverdale Township Fire Chief Kerry Shepherd thinks it going to be beneficial to everybody especially since "we don't have to worry about calling out resources because they are all ready on the way."

Lang said his department has MABAS cards in each emergency vehicle and at the station. "Its about time they implemented something that puts everything in use," he said.

Fire departments have also implemented a county wide accountability board. Each firefighter is given a unit number, and when they give that number to the incident commander when they arrive on the scene.

The board allows the incident commander to track where the firefighters are at and what they are working on.

This board is similar to the original, but is a better system of tracking personnel and available resources on a scene.

It is also allows the incident commander to combine accountability boards when several fire departments are arriving to assist.

Both Newgent and Lang voiced their hopes for additions to the system. Newgent said they may expand MABAS to add technical rescue, hazmat and wildland fires, while Lang said he wants to see accident and collapse and multiple causuality box to the system.

The future goal for dispatchers with MABAS is developing a single tone for the system. Each department has their own two-tone combination, and when a dispatcher has to pull five or six of these tones, it wastes critical time.

But "working toward a single, two-toned MABAS system, we just drop the single tone and everybody is notified simultaneously," said Costin.

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