Decision Support for Mayfield, NY
Fire and Emergency Medical Services

by Myron Messak, Fire Chief,
Mayfield Fire District # 2, Mayfield, New York

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technologies are an ideal tool for making improvements in firefighting and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). GIS technologies have been used in the Western part of the United States for helping fight brush and forest fires for a number of years. GIS has shown its potential as an invaluable decision support tool. This article illustrates how GIS and Global Positioning System (GPS) tools are being implemented in a small county in upstate New York. This case study documents the project from initial inception in a single fire district to a county-wide expansion. Topics covered in this article include using GIS to develop predetermined Helicopter Landing Zones, mapping a fire district's water sources, storing floor plans of a building prior to a fire for use in developing fire fighting tactics, emergency preplanning in the event of an evacuation in a natural disaster and developing a preplan mapping of all fire departments in the county including available resources. This type of spatial decision support can be implemented and used by any Fire/EMS at a minimal expense.

The Mayfield fire district described in this article encompasses a rural New York community with a year round population of approximately 6,400 residents and covering an area of approximately 64 square miles. Included in this fire district is the largest manmade reservoir in the Northeast U.S., used for recreation in summer and winter. The seasonal residence population triples in the summer months. Although a major state highway intersects this district, the closest trauma center is an hour away by ambulance.

The decision support program started with implementing predetermined helicopter landing zones in order to reduce the time to transport a patient to the nearest trauma center. The first step was to contact the area medical helicopter evacuation center and ask them the criteria required in a predetermined helicopter-landing zone. This is a must in developing a set of standards to be used by all departments. The standards included a minimum area of 100 feet by 100 feet required for landing, the coordinate system used, different datumís give different results, the landing surface the aircraft will be landing on, the nearest hazards, such as power lines and trees, and the frequencies used by the pilot and the landing officer. This is a lot of information needed in the middle of an emergency. Prior to this, if a helicopter was needed, a landing zone would have to be located at that point in time in the middle of an emergency and usually in darkness. Instead, by using a GPS and going around the fire district looking for areas that met these criteria in daylight and not under pressure of an emergency, sites were identified. Once a site was located the Latitude and Longitude, the landing surface, and potential hazards were recorded for computer input at a later time. This idea was streamlined and polished with the help of the staff at the Spatial Information Technology Center at Fulton-Montgomery Community College located in Johnstown, New York. Refer to Figure 1 for a printed map of a landing zone.

Fig. 1. A helicopter landing zone map.

This project was so well received that it is now being expanded to the 16 other Fire/EMS Districts in the county. Each fire district was asked to locate four potential landing zones meeting the criteria noted previously. Once located each department was given a book with each of their landing zones. This information is also being given to the Civil Defense/County Fire Coordinator and the Countyís E-911 Dispatch system.

By using a GPS unit and going out into the rural district where water is a major concern, known water sources were plotted and mapped. This has a number of advantages including, training in the classroom, giving bordering fire districts the advantage of mutual aid department water sources information, and the county having information for all fire department water sources in the event of a major catastrophe. Refer to Figure 2, below.

Fig. 2. Screen Shot Water Sources.

In the event of a major fire in a large building a big advantage to the fire department is to know the interior layout of the building. Again using a GPS or by geocoding the building address, the building can be mapped for water source proximity. Another advantage is by clicking on the building's symbol, floor plans can be hot linked to give an AutoCAD drawing of the interior. Refer to Figure 3.

Fig. 3. Screen Shot Interior layout.

Another example use of the system is preplanning for responding to a disaster like a Dam failure. By digitizing the potential flood area along with geocoded names, addresses, and telephone numbers of individual residents in that affected area, a controlled and planned evacuation can be initiated. Refer to Figure 4 for a screen shot showing evacuation routes.

Fig. 4. Screen Shot evacuation routes.

As a preplanning tool each fire department, ambulance service, and law enforcement station was also mapped and by using a hot link each station's available resources can be made available by a click of a button. This is an invaluable tool in the event mutual aid is needed from one fire department to another to coordinate available resources. Identification of county-wide resources and the location of these resources gives the county coordinator and E-911 dispatch invaluable information. Dispatching and staging of resources becomes more effective. This information could include number and types of apparatus available, number of generators, emergency medical trained personnel, etc. Refer to Figure 5.

Fig. 5. Screen Shot of resource information linked to locations.

In conclusion, GIS used for decision support has a definite place in emergency management services. There are various software packages available that can provide these capabilities. Much, if not all, of the above capabilities can be provided at a small cost with major benefits.

About Mayfield and Fulton County, New York

Mayfield is located in Fulton County in the foothills of the Adirondacks, for more information check To locate Fulton County see the map of New York State displayed below.

Fulton County New York is highlighted in red.

About the Author

Myron Messak is an Auto-Cad Designer and Volunteer Fire Chief of Mayfield Fire District #2, in Mayfield, New York. Messak is a New York State certified Hazardous Materials Technician and a member of the Fulton County Fire Investigation team.

Editor's note

The Mayfield fire district received funding from MapInfo's Homeland Security grant in the fall of 2002 to upgrade and expand the system described in this case. The expanded system provides more support for the E-911 dispatchers in Fulton County, NY.

Please note information on this system was published in Volume 4, Issue 1 of the Geographic Information Systems Technology News, a newsletter published by the Office For Technology, Spatial Information Technology Center at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, Johnstown, New York. This case example was presented at the 18th Annual NYS GIS Conference in October, 2002 in Liverpool, New York. A version of this case was published by on January 21, 2003.

Some Questions for Analysis and Discussion

  1. Is this application a data-driven or a model-driven Spatial Decision Support System OR is it an umbrella application with multiple decision support subsystems?
  2. Are some of the tasks supported by the GIS more transaction processing than decision support? If so, which tasks?
  3. What decision support technologies were used?
  4. What is the purpose of the GIS software?
  5. Should all counties and political entities have this type of DSS?
  6. What are the major benefits of this DSS?
  7. What problems or difficulties do you anticipate with implementation of this decision support GIS solution?

Please cite as:

Messak, Myron, "Decision Support for Mayfield, NY Fire and Emergency Medical Services", 2003, at URL DSSResources.COM.

Myron Messak provided permission to use this case study on October 22, 2003. Messak's email address is This case study was posted at DSSResources.COM on Friday, November 28, 2003.

This case study is provided for informational purposes only. DSSResources.COM makes no warranties, express or implied, about this case summary.