4 fire companies agree on emergency response

Improvements also
made in Jackson
radio communication

4 fire companies agree
on emergency response
Improvements also
made in Jackson
radio communication

JACKSON — A number of emergency service improvements have been made recently — with more in store — to assure Jackson residents of their continued safety.

According to a press release, under a joint automatic/mutual aid resolution recently enacted and announced by the collective Boards of Fire Commissioners for Whitesville District 1, Cassville District 2, Jackson District 3 and Jackson Mills District 4, residents and business owners will now receive emergency fire response from two of the closest Jackson fire company stations to the address of the emergency, regardless of their geographic location within a district.

Each of the four districts is served respectively by the Whitesville, Cassville, Jackson and Jackson Mills volunteer fire companies, with career firefighters supplementing the day-time response. Enactment of the agreement — approved by all fire company chiefs and commissioners — results in a higher level of protection for residents, and also for the firefighters in the performance of their duties, according to the fire commissioners.

The automatic aid agreement stipulates that fire apparatus from two districts will be dispatched automatically on the initial alarm for reports of emergencies involving building structures — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The agreement is consistent with recent directives from the state as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security regarding pre-planning of emergency management resources.

"This agreement was the right thing to do," said Ray Tremer, a fire commissioner from Jackson Mills Fire District 4. "We formalized what had been a general understanding among the fire companies and boards prior to the agreement being in writing. This assures residents that we will have adequate apparatus and personnel on the scene as quickly as possible."

Although it will mean no change for most homeowners and businesses concerning available insurance credit for fire protection, some could receive more favorable premiums regarding their distance from a responding fire station, according to the press release.

"Almost every fire insurance company across the country uses distance to hydrant and responding fire station in their property insurance premium pricing decisions," said Mike Waters, fire commissioner of Jackson District 3. "Reduced fire station travel distance and improved water hydrant protection are often the single biggest reasons for reduction in property premiums."

The agreement follows another recent improvement whereby a new state-of-the-art multiple-channel UHF radio system for base stations, mobile units for apparatus and pagers for all firefighters has replaced an older, one-frequency, low-band version in the township. The new radios allow for enhanced dispatch and fire communication capabilities, thereby improving efficiency and safety.

The majority of the cost of the radios and installation was made possible through a state grant with supplemental funds made available from each fire district. Replacement of the radios was the successful realization of years of discussion and planning among the fire districts and fire companies, the fire commissioners said.

"When Jackson was a group of villages with a small and dispersed population, a one-frequency fire radio system was adequate," said District 2 Commissioner Bruce Bidwell, who also serves as the township fire radio coordinator. "With the significant growth of the township that we have already experienced — with more in sight — we needed the flexibility and improved capability of the UHF-band system."

"Since Jackson is just over 100 square miles in size, it’s not unusual to have simultaneous incidents, especially when strong thunderstorms roll across the town in the summer, for example," observed Ken Byrnes, deputy chief of Fire District 3. "Using the old system, sometimes we’d have congestion on the air with multiple companies attempting to use the only available radio channel at the same time. The new system, which separates the dispatch channel from fire ground use, allows the dispatcher to continue to alert the firefighters of new emergencies even when other incidents are under way. Also, the chief in charge of each existing incident can operate on their own channel, enhancing the safety of all concerned."

In addition to the fire protection changes, two districts now also provide first responder EMS services using EMT-certified, career firefighter staff on duty during the daytime hours. During the fall of 2003, Jackson Mills District 4 initiated EMS service, complementing the existing service provided by Jackson District 3 in the northeast section of the township.

Other improvements, planned for later this year, involve a change in dispatching responsibilities.

"We’re poised to move ahead during the first quarter of 2004 with a transition from the current local fire dispatch methods to use of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Emergency Communication Center," Bidwell said.

He cited good cooperation from the county and Jackson officials regarding the extensive planning and approval process necessary to implement the change. Fire personnel from all across Jackson have been entering critical dispatch information into the system on an address-by-address basis for several months in preparation for the change.

"Switching to the county will enable Jackson fire companies to take advantage of the countywide Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, which allows the dispatcher to pinpoint the fire location, see a display of fire companies to send out and provide responding units with the nearest cross street and hydrant information, for example, using the caller’s telephone identification," Bidwell said.

"The use of the CAD system will enhance response time and avoid time-consuming delays for the necessary emergency units to arrive at the proper location."