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Fire Department seeks advice on gps units


2goobs
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Hello fellow geocachers. I am a cacher and I am also a captain in our local volunteer fire department here in Lewisburg Pa. I was approached by our chief about buiying new gps units for out appartus. I have a fairly good grasp on wha there is out there but I thought I would ask for some opinions.

 

First let me tell you what it is that we would be using them for since fire departments do almost everything under the sun this will not be an all inclusive list. Some things that we would be using them for are: landing helicopters, direction of travel ie. compass, land searches, wild fires, possible street navigation, possible location mapping of water supplies and points of intrest both in town and out of town, hazardous materil incidents, and a few other things.

 

The way I see it boils down to needing a few options on the units. Obviously we need the ability for lat/lon in different map datum to land aircraft. Compass capibilites when standing still not acting like we are vultures looking for our next meal. A good altimiter to figure out our elavation for hazmat spills. A good base map or software support program to update maps specific to our area. External antenna so the units can be used from inside the appartus. 12 volt power capeble so we don't have to change batteries all of the time. Temp. and barometric pressure would be nice if it is possible.

 

We currently have some real early garmin units that have served us well for a long tome (10 years or so) so anythng at the=is time would be a major improvement. If there is any other options out ther that I missed that you see as possibly see as something that we may need let me know.

 

There it is. Thank you in advance for you help and happy caching!

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Garmin 60CSX with mapping (the base map will not be enough for you). They have a auto navigation kit that includes the mapping CD, dash mount and a power cord. The 60CSX has the electonic compass, altimeter which both need calibrated often (the compass usually just after changing batteries) and barometer. Negative on the temp though.

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How about something like the Garmin Rino units that are a combination of a GPS unit and a walkie talkie? I think that you can even send & receive locations between other Rino units. The Rino 530 has an advertised 14 mile walkie talkie range. The Rino 530 is listed at $535 on the Garmin site.

 

I don't think one would want to land a helicoper soley with the coordinates from a consumer grade GPS. Maybe just get them into the right area where manual directions can take over. The Elevation on my 60cx can be 30' or 40' off at times. Bad weather conditions are usually the worst conditions for GPS accuracy.

 

I think you would definitely want waas and Sirf to get a better accuracy. There are other types of coordinate correction systems out there. If you are near an airport, you might check into what they use.

 

I would think that every fire dept vehicle should have a good compass on board as well as a weather thermometer and a wind speed indicator. Sometimes the old manual things are more reliable than electronic things. 12V in the truck is fine, but if your away from the truck, the GPS should run off of batteries, too.

 

It may be possible to subscribe to a map updating service. That possibility should be checked out. The shortest road to my son's house is 0.5 miles but the City Navigator maps calculate a route that is 1.5 miles long. The short road had been in existence for 3 years, but not yet updated to the CN map.

 

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like any of the Rino units have external antenna cabilities.

 

http://www.garmin.com/products/rino530/

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Normally I'm a Garmin fan, but if you are going to rely on a compass in a clinch, scratch Garmin off your list. You have to hold the GPS flat for the compass to work correctly. The last thing you need is for the GPS to remind you to "hold level" while you are using the compass and you don't have a bunch of spare time.

 

That's going to put you into the 3 axis compass and that's Magellans strong point.

 

A GPS Without sensors will give you elevation, it's a matter of how accurate you want it. The ones wiht a sensor use barimetric presssure to determine your elevation but you have to calebrate it to be at it's best accuracy.

 

Just a couple of things to keep in mind.

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I think you need more than one type of GPS, handhelds for the field and dashmounts for the vehicle. The aforementioned 60csx will serve you well in the field.

 

For a dashmount, I recommend one with a remote control. My work recently acquired several Garmin 2720's and I am sold on the remote control - very user-friendly and it's easy to memorize the position of the buttons, keeping your eyes on the road longer. The 2720's come preloaded with maps of the whole USA; so, you can use the GPS right out of the box. It comes with a City Navigation DVD; so, you use the second license to download the mapping software into the 60csx' - saving your department $$.

 

Good luck and keep us posted.

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Another Garmin feature that may serve you well is the POI feature. You can create a custom database of lat/longs for hydrants, drafting sources, etc. under "water sources," then add a category for "mutual aid" consisting of neighboring stations or staging points, etc., all of which could then be uploaded to each unit.

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Good feed back thus far. I see by some of the terms flying around here there are some fire fighter/ rescue types among us. Does using the sd card in any way limit using the mini usb link to the computer. My old foretrex 201 I can hook up directly to my laptop and watch my self go down the road. And do I have to use the sd card to communicate to the gps all of the time or can I still use the computer link to communicate?

 

Capt 205

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We teach GPS and I play with several units. Garmin is a good choice. I have the 2720 for my car and several GPS 60 series for handhelds.

 

Either way, since you work with a fire department, we have a Garmin dealer who sells units at a good discount. Let me know if you want the info. He also sells to schools.

 

email me at: egorny@gis2gps.com and I can send you his contact info. He is out of New York

 

Ed

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Good feed back thus far. I see by some of the terms flying around here there are some fire fighter/ rescue types among us. Does using the sd card in any way limit using the mini usb link to the computer. My old foretrex 201 I can hook up directly to my laptop and watch my self go down the road. And do I have to use the sd card to communicate to the gps all of the time or can I still use the computer link to communicate?

 

Capt 205

Hi Captain,

 

You can still use the mini-USB connection with a PC/Laptop. Also will chime in with a POC you might find helpful. My wife (MooseMaMa) is a member of VATF-1 (USAR) http://www.vatf1.org/ and they have been using the Garmin RINO 120s (replacing the Garmin GPS-5) for both waypointing and short range communications on exercises and real world deployments. If you go to that website and search around for the Comm Element of the Team they might be able to give you some good operational feedback. If you come up dry, send me an e-mail and I'll try to get you in contct with their comm management specialist.

 

Regards,

Bill (2Wheel'in)

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From your description of desired features, the Magellan Explorist 600 would seem a likely fit with the 3-axis electronic compass, barometer, and thermometer. You should look at it, but there are several things that I think would argue against it:

  • the compass works pretty well, but the other sensors aren't that accurate and most people don't find them very useful.
  • I don't know how many units you are buying, but each Explorist will require not only its own copy of a detailed mapping program, but also its own computer to run on. There appears to be an unofficial workaround for this, but it's cumbersome. Garmin lets you add additional units for what I consider a reasonable license fee.

If your department is used to Garmins, they would probably appreciate continuity. Also, AFAIK only [some] Garmin models have the Sight-n-Go feature, which might be useful to you. As I understand it (I've never had an opportunity to use it), one can take sightings of a landscape feature (say, a distant brushfire) from two different vantage points and the GPS will calculate the coords by triangulation.

 

Another thought I'd offer has to do with your need for up-to-date maps. Garmin offers annual updates--but even those are apt to lack the most recent changes. You might look at the new Delorme GPS because of its use of TopoUSA. This software allows you to add routable features. For example, you can create a track of a new road and add it to the map database as a routable street (I think that's true...I know you can do it as a trail). Being able to update the map yourself is the only way I think you can assure yourself that you have the most current dataset. One drawback of the Delorme is that not only is it brand new, but also the first handheld the company is bringing to market. Usually new models take some time to shake out the bugs, and I'd be hesitant to entrust any mission-critical functions to it.

Edited by embra
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This may complicate your need but there are system that tie-in cel phones with GPS that report back to a base station so the bay station knows the location of everyone. Turcking companies and others use this to trak where all their vehicles are. Obviously you can use this with people.

 

I believe so phone services offer this recently with the GPS being on-board many cell phones. The problem here though is the cell phone GPS

is not very good yet.

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In all sincerity, I would not think it prudent to find a location using the GPS in an emergency. Do not firemen spend a lot of time driving around their area of service gaining local knowledge, and consult -and even study- maps from the municipal government that would have the very latest data, including new properties under construction, etc?

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why not? on my 3 deployments to iraq we used the garmin etrex's to find and navigate to firefights, carbombs, you name it and the garmin did it. I would strongly suggest the 60 or 76csx units. these offer great reception with the SiRF chips and the mapping and customer service is phenomenal. garmin units get the job done bar none.

 

street details are reliant on local government not the gps companies. if the local government has registered that road and mapped it, you can bet it will be on the next software update.

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In all sincerity, I would not think it prudent to find a location using the GPS in an emergency. Do not firemen spend a lot of time driving around their area of service gaining local knowledge, and consult -and even study- maps from the municipal government that would have the very latest data, including new properties under construction, etc?

For the most part they know where they are going but then there are also a lot of times, especially in rural areas, that they will not know where they are going. They are also nice for giving coordinates to land helicopters.

There is a 70 hiking trail that goes the entire length of my county that I am hiking and tracking. Those fire departments that cover the section of trail in their area will have the track and mile markers in their GPSr.

I could go on and on but I hope you get the picture.

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Isiah is partialy right. Fire departments do spend some time driving around the area. But.... as Ben points out in a round about way you can't dirve every where. For instance there is the Mid state trail here in Pa that runs near our coverage area you can't even get an atv up that thing. Trusting the local gov't mapping is not the best thig to do around here yet sinc the gis dept is just really starting to get its act together. As far as tracking appartus the Gov't is going to soon let us use some technology that they will be able to track us from HQ.

 

ALSO THAK YOU FOR YOU FOR SEVING OUR COUNTRY KCBOWHUNTER!!!

 

-cap 205

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