Seattle fired up over new Web feature

When a 911 call is phoned in to the Seattle Fire Department, not only can it be heard over a scanner, but now it also can be seen on the World Wide Web. The metropolitan fire department has launched a new service through its Web site (www.cityofseattle.net/fire) listing near-real-time emergency fire dispatches. On the site, people can see the exact time a call was received, the address where units were sent, which fire and rescue units were dispatched, and what kind of emergency was occurring, such as an automobile fire, medic response or residential alarm.

Leonard Roberts, the fire department's management information systems director, said the Web site was created mainly as a service to the news media. He said although most media organizations have scanners to monitor emergency calls, they might miss the call's location and other pertinent information.

In such situations, the department's dispatchers and public information officer have to field up to 25 calls from media organizations within the first few minutes of an emergency. That takes up valuable time for the dispatchers, Roberts said.

"We have not increased our staff to do dispatching in 15 years, but the call volume has doubled. That's kind of why we're looking at different ways to be efficient," he said.

The program for the Web listing of emergency calls was written in-house at no extra cost, Roberts said. When dispatchers receive a call, they use a computer-assisted dispatching system to create an incident report and send a response. The system then sends the information to the fire stations as well as to a server where someone using the Web site could access it. Roberts said it takes about one to three minutes for a call to show up on the Web after it is phoned in.

Information on the site can also help the Coast Guard, the Red Cross or trauma centers prepare to help people involved in major incidents, such as a three- or four-alarm fire, he said. The city's fire department, which has about 1,000 firefighters and 100 civilian workers, receives about 80,000 calls each year. Of those calls, about 15 are considered major incidents.

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