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New technology tracks San Leon, TX firefighters in emergencies

Published on 29 June 2009

On the outside looking in: San Leon Volunteer Fire Department is now introducing OnSite ERT by ERT Systems, LLC to aid in tracking firefighter status and whereabouts during emergency operations
On the outside looking in: San Leon VFD is using OnSite ERT to track firefighter status during operations
OnSite ERT answers age-old question: "Who's inside?"

It's a scene all too familiar for San Leon firefighters, as well as others across the country: emergency responders enter a burning building, but before the flames are put out, the roof collapses and they dash out. The commander on scene is suddenly left wondering if any crew members are still inside. What do they do?

If someone is trapped, there may just be a couple of minutes to find and rescue them. If everyone did make it out, the commander will be sending a rescue team in for a useless but extremely dangerous mission. What's the cost if they guess wrong?

That stressful and dangerous scenario will now be a thing of the past for San Leon Volunteer Fire Department (VFD), now that department officials are introducing new tracking technology called OnSite ERT™, produced by ERT Systems, LLC. The technology will replace previous, less reliable techniques to determine crew status during fire-related emergencies, only because until now, there hasn't been a better option.

Starting sometime in August 2009, the San Leon VFD will begin utilizing OnSite ERT™ on the scene of emergencies. The technology uses a combination of lightweight ID tags, portable drop readers and incident command software that provides a clear sense of an emergency scene in real time - all from the screen of a laptop.

"When I saw this system in action for the first time, I immediately knew it was something our community would benefit from," said Assistant Chief Scott Lyons. "OnSite ERT will help us ensure that we are taking every feasible step to keep our firefighters as safe as possible. It also provides us with valuable data that helps our incident commanders properly follow the required local, state and federal guidelines."

San Leon VFD represents about 28 firefighters serving a population of 5,000 in roughly a 5 square mile area.
OnSite ERT, a portable and rapidly deployable system for tracking and monitoring first responders and equipment, is the brainchild of retired firefighter John Ellis and technology expert Dennis Carmichael. Following several months of research, development and live trials at mock emergency scenes, the product is gaining traction among fire departments nationwide, already in use by 14 departments from Texas to New York, with more on the horizon.

The OnSite ERT system has also proven beneficial for use in mutual-aid events, streamlining response and improving post-incident reporting and performance analysis, which helps departments comply with federal rules in place for emergency situations. The system provides electronic data demonstrating that rules were followed on scene, which helps limit legal risks in the event of a tragedy.

"For commanders on scene, OnSite ERT removes a tremendous amount of anxiety while also contributing to the safety of the crew," Ellis said. "Our dream is to one day see every fire department using this technology. With OnSite ERT, fire departments might be able to send someone home who wouldn't have made it otherwise."

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