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Southland fire departments new technology promises average of 2-minute reduction in response time

South suburban fire departments expect response times to be reduced by an average of two minutes per call following the introduction of a new technology called CentralSquare Unify, which automates backup requests for units in neighboring communities.

The technology has been used in other states, but this is the first time it’s been introduced in Illinois, according to fire officials who announced the system Wednesday. It is being paid for through a $600,000 state grant.

“This will save lives, this will protect property,” said Richton Park fire Chief Mick Smith. “I know my colleagues were saying the Southland usually comes second or third. It’s good to be first.”

Orland Park Fire Protection District spearheaded the move, but about 20 other communities are participating in the program, including Blue Island, Palos Fire Department and Tinley Park, a news release said.

State Sen. Michael Hastings, a Democrat representing Tinley Park and Frankfort, said he hopes this is just the beginning for first response agencies embracing this technology.

“We hope that this is an example for other counties, for that matter, to join the organization so that if something does happen in the south suburbs or in Will County, for that matter, everybody knows what we’re working with,” Hastings said.

CentralSquare Unify reduces response times by linking different computer-aided dispatch systems used by communities that do not automatically communicate with one another, explained Gina Cortez, director of dispatch operations for Orland Fire Protection District. Not all towns use the same computer system, so dispatch centers had to manually call sometimes if another department was closer, more prepared to respond or backup is needed.

“It’s been a three-year project that has finally come to fruition,” said Steve DeJong, the deputy fire chief for Homewood. “We’re excited for it and we are excited to expand it as we can.”

One thing officials like about CentralSquare Unify is that it covers the inability for different fire departments’ computer-aided dispatch systems to communicate with each other without requiring all departments to buy new, uniform systems. Every agency buying a new system is more expensive than using this technology to link the existing computer systems.

Cortez was asked why this technology, which appears obvious, isn’t already in place.

“It just didn’t catch on in this region,” Cortez said. “This technology has been deployed in the national capital regions since after 9/11.”

hsanders@chicagotribune.com