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Fire District 5 adds app to get out information

A mobile app that allows subscribers to receive alerts on their cellphones has been added by Jackson County Fire District No. 5 to enhance communication with the population it serves in the south county area.

District officials can now send out alerts about emergencies, including fires, road problems and other activities, and the app allows access to a variety of information.

“This is brand new territory for us. The difference is we can do it right here without going to a third party,” said district Chief Charles Hanley. “The intent of this app is to help us with our communication outreach so we can be more responsive to our public.”

The system doesn’t have the push capability to send alerts to specific areas within the district like a reverse 911 feature, but that capability will be explored for potential future implementation, Hanley said. Cost for the system was about $18,000.

A recent structure fire off of West Valley View Road down a driveway is the type of situation where an alert could have been put out had it been necessary to close the road, said Hanley. A rollover accident the district covered on Interstate 5 a few weeks ago is another example where an alert might have been used had the system been in place then. So far, no emergency alerts have been transmitted.

“I would compare it to a spot weather forecast within a micro-climate,” said Hanley, when asked how notifications would differ when compared to the system available through Jackson County. Incidents that might not be put out via the county system could be put out for incidents within the district.

As of Nov. 6, 767 people had signed up for the service, including 300 iPhone users and 467 Android phones, said Tina George, administrative assistant with the district.

Those who sign up can activate an app share feature, which allows them to let others know about the system and to sign up. Almost 40% of those enrolled had used the app share, said George. Prominent clicks on the system have been on wildfires, wildland fire prevention and information about the department, she said.

Besides alerts, app features include contact information, CPR class listings, outdoor burning status, social media and station information. In addition, there is information on meetings, apparatus, directions, photo downloading instructions and the Firehouse 5 Foundation, which raises money to support the district. Links on the app are constantly updated, said George, as are the district’s website links.

Phone users can text “JCFD5APP” to 95577 to have the app link sent to their phones or can search for Jackson County Fire District 5 in their app store.

Communication with district emergency responders has also been increased by adding the capability to use cellphones like radios. There are areas in the district that have shadows within the radio system but where cellphone coverage is available. On I-5, radio transmission from milepost 7 to the state border can be iffy, but the area does have cell coverage, said Hanley.

“Essentially it just turns our cellphones into a portable radio or walkie-talkie,” said Hanley. A more rugged version than the typical consumer cellphone is used, with one assigned to each apparatus and to each command vehicle. The upgrade is part of a new package with the district’s cell service provider.

“Anyone who has that radio and is on the air would be able to hear it better,” said Hanley, who described it as mimicking a radio frequency over a cellphone system.

“It’s going to be for the betterment of safety for the crews,” said district board Chair Vicki Purslow. “There are a tremendous number of dropped (radio) calls. Service can be a little challenging.”

Phoenix, Talent and rural areas throughout the south county, including up Dead Indian Memorial Road and I-5, are within the district, which covers about 110 square miles with about 20,000 residents. More information about the district can be found at www.jcfd5.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Jackson County Fire district 5 volunteer firefighter Dale Grimes Firefighters douses the 2nd floor of a vacant house that burned at the corner of North Church and Fifth streets in Phoenix. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell