Imagine trying to fight a raging forest fire without maps or knowing how much acreage is involved. Maps have long been important tools for firefighters and are now even more effective with the advent of GPS tracking. The old method was to fly over the fire, while sketching it out over topographic maps. The maps are crucial to show the location of the fire, how fast it is spreading, and to determine the particular firefighting difficulties likely to be encountered due to the terrain. However, sometimes sketches are not totally accurate and their rendering takes some time. Smoke on the ground often makes it difficult to see the perimeter of the fire clearly.

GPS, or the Global Positioning System, is a global navigation satellite system that consists of 24 satellites put in place and owned by the U.S. Department of Defense. It is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver and transmits the device’s latitude, longitude and altitude, as well as time.

How GPS Fights Fires

New firefighting methodology uses GPS tracking units to pinpoint receivers on the ground, allowing an accurate map to be created of the fire’s perimeter. The detail produced by the GPS satellite imagery gives firefighters an accurate picture of the extent of the fire so that they can gather resources, plan the most efficient battle plan, and keep themselves out of harm’s way. If it becomes necessary to call in firefighters from outlying areas for extra help, GPS can help them get to the right location and transmit the emergency services’ positions to each other. In the event that someone is in trouble, help can be easily coordinated to get to the individual quickly. This also ensures that firefighters are never left behind. An added benefit GPS technology offers is that it can be used to map lightening strikes, which then can be viewed by pilots who fly over later and check the area for smoke.

GPS tracking can be of great benefit to firefighters at multiple levels – mapping the fire, locating and directing personnel to the hot spots, directing rescue efforts if necessary, and sending additional help to the right location. In these days when raging wildfires can burn for days and consume hundreds and thousands of acres, every available tool should be used to make firefighting as effective, efficient and safe as possible. This will also make the best use of resources and personnel, thereby saving money. In fact, this clever use of GPS tracking can even pay for itself in the long run.

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Tags: firefighters and gps , gps fire , gps firefighting , gps safety , GPS Tracking