GPS Values for Difficult situations

Our recent bushfires have thrown up some unpleasant facts
about our preparedness and as I background to this post
you may like to read the linked story, its a bit rough
and its a tale of confusion and luck.

Some details have had to be left out of this account, but I can add that when the time came to go to survival mode the crew of the tanker held there nerve and waited till their fire suits actually began to smoulder before turning on the water spray systems.

After our own recent need to 4wd and navigate in poor conditions (post 65905) I found it difficult to accept that many of our crews are so under equipped in some areas, as per a reply below from the driver in the above story.

When our 4wding conditions are good GPS specs don't matter that much and your $300 Tom Tom can do the job , but when your visibility is gone due to fire, fog or even night-time
you really do need equipment that does better.

I have long used a GPS 276C (still available), but its not the brand but the specs that count and I believe the following are fundamental 4wding requirements.

1/ Ability to have an external aerial which improves accuracy
(Window film & the radiant heatshields in tankers reduce GPS performance)

2/ Gps must be settable to show maps with north up.

3/ Gps must be able to include contour maps.

4/ Gps must be able to log a track of its path

5/ Must be able to allow user to roughly estimate distances
(UTM co-ordinates facilitate this - as they are in meters)

6/ Easy to enter mark a spot in an emergency).

7/ Be easily removed from car and used as a portable.

8/ Above average sensitivity as trees, fog can effect.
In the case of smoke/fire ,ionization of the air is what
reduces sensitivity.

Robin Miller

Drivers reply to my questions

GPS units are not part of the specification on most CFA tankers
(I am not sure if this is the case with the newest 3.4C appliances), this means that the individual brigades need to purchase/install/maintain the units.
With all the costs associated with running a brigade, esspecially for those where the community funds additional fire fighting appliances beyond what is supplied by the CFA, there is rarely enough slack in the budget to consider these things.
That said, the last 5 years have seen significant changes in the cost/value equation for GPS units so I would expect to see more and more appliances with GPS units installed.
As it happened though we did not have GPS on the truck.

I know I will be putting GPS forward as an item for consideration by the brigade for our trucks again at my earliest opportunity.
Robin Miller

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Reply By: ben_gv3 - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:15

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:15
Welcome to the real world. NGO's and other Emergency Services don't have an endless budget.
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:46

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:46
What worries me Ben is that its apparently discouraged for them to also try an implement localized solutions that they have collected funds for - accept by means of keeping quiet.
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Reply By: Mr Pointyhead - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:21

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:21
9/ Crews need to be thoroughly trained in how to use the technology correctly.. Unfortunately this is often forgotten when rolling out new technology

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Follow Up By: Member -Signman - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:38

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:38
Here-'s all very good to have all the gizmotronics installed but they are completely useless if the can't be operated. May the Brigade Captian and the Officers know all about it, but what about the lackey Basic Firefighter ?? He may be the one that has to interperet information available...

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Reply By: Member - John (Vic) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:23

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:23
What a story, bloody terrifying for all concerned.
I can't begin to imagine what they were going through.
Glad it turned out well for these guys.

It would appear that a GPS may have helped with a more precise location and a higher chance of being found.
As it was it appears it was just good luck that the other truck found them at all in that hell.

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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:51

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:51
Hi John

After the enquiries , I'm expecting that story to be edited and reveal a lot more as it has glossed over a few key points.
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Reply By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:33

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:33
Hi Robin,

With me sitting in an air conditioned office I can’t really appreciate the difficulties of the situation and I think you make an excellent point. I am wondering,

A) How effective would a GPS be in such a situation? I mean it is a case of survival and both the equipment and users are operating in extremes. It would also seem to me that if they DO work in those situations then one would think it would be mandatory. I can think of no other situation where volunteers are faced with these circumstances and where their lives are at risk.
B) Given the price of these things and being mindful of all others that are in need I wonder if some of the donated funds could not go in that direction?

Kind regards
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:57

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 12:57
Hi Beatit

re your point a) There are some technical issues but in putting out the GPS specs they way I did I believe that the standard setup could be just a contour and road map display with north as a fixed heading.

Essentially it would provide some real assitance without any operator intervention at all.

On point B) I was surprized that a $350,000 appliance doesn't have the basic setup that even most of our cars now have and a GPS will be itemized as a specific tool that this particular group will pursue even if they have to raise the funds themselves.

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Follow Up By: Lex M (Brisbane) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 13:12

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 13:12
"just a contour and road map display with north as a fixed heading. "

Sounds like OziExplorer to me.
That's the way I use it anyway.
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Follow Up By: Member - Beatit (QLD) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 14:03

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 14:03
Hi Robin,

I guess there are two purposes here, one is to navigate and the other is to be located in time of a mayday call. The first one is most relevant probably when most things would be ok but the emergency situation calls for a greater deal of accuracy. I wonder why they don't have gps tranponders like some transport fleets? This should provide real time updates at any command centre without input from the crew.

Kind regards
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Reply By: Rossc0 - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 13:47

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 13:47
"5/ Must be able to allow user to roughly estimate distances
(UTM co-ordinates facilitate this - as they are in meters)"

Be careful specifying UTM only as what do the water bombers use?

In a situation like this if you need the water bomber urgently and their using lat/long in degrees and decimal minutes then it could be too late after converting.

Just something else to add to your specs.

Should have direct readout of degrees and decimal minutes as most aviators use that as that's what all the aviation documents are in.


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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 14:07

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 14:07
Hi Ross

I'm trying to indicate what might be of value to a 4wder, but if you reckon we could get a water bomber to target us then I can see the fun value in an instant bog-hole.
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Follow Up By: Rossc0 - Friday, Feb 27, 2009 at 11:56

Friday, Feb 27, 2009 at 11:56
Hi Robin,

Definitely a great bog hole ;)

But yes, been a while since I've been involved with CFA etc but I know of two crews who are alive today because the fire bomber was lucky enough to find them and able to drop the water directly on the truck and cleared the fire arround them.

Mind you these were only small fires and the water bombers then were cropdusters (Cessna 188 and Airtractors) roped in to do some moping up work. The Erikson is probably a little too big on load and may just cause more damage.

This was also way before GPS was common even in aviation, and there was no possibility of any vehicle having one. Located them by UHF and local knowledge only.

After having read the story but I doubt the water bombers could have even got in there due to lack of visibility, etc.

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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Friday, Feb 27, 2009 at 12:42

Friday, Feb 27, 2009 at 12:42
Hi Ross

Those guys must have experienced something like these guys before the water bomber dropped there load.

Even with GPS these guys probably couldn't have driven out as roads are very steep/narrow but at least the rescue crew could have got there quicker - its amazing to think they drove down a main road over speed humps and couldn't determine there position.
As in your story it was really only local knowledge that got them saved.

What I fear out of current crisis is an imposition of more and bigger systems that can work in the big picture - but often at the scarifice of small local numbers.

I will be reviewing our 4wd systems as well , I noted that when I checked on the blanket and water we always carry in the car that it was synthetic .

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Reply By: Mr Pointyhead - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 14:57

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 14:57
Discussing this with other friends in CFA. They said what would really help would be automatic transponders with GPS data for all the CFA vehicles. Also, maybe a distress button you can push on the dash.

That way the CFA management would know where all assets are all the time. This would assist with both safety and better deploying assets.

A lot of taxi fleets have this technology, so why not emergency services ?

(Some CFA people do use oziexplorer with the CFA maps, that are available in oziexplorer format. But they have purchased it themselves)
AnswerID: 351151

Follow Up By: RV Powerstream P/L - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:08

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:08
Im not sure if this has any significance but with the new OZHF I have a GPS interface and an sms facility which is transmitted back to a base so to me it gives a dual purpose contact and location identification.
Maybe this could be of assistance .
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Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:44

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:44
Hi Ian

Thanks for note - their is plenty of technology to do better and its been around for a long time , hell even many of our mobile phone already have some location ability - but getting everone to agree on a standard seems to take a disaster.
Robin Miller

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Reply By: Flywest - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:07

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:07
GPS Fleet tracking of assetts is already available and the more vehicles the cheaper it gets! That said it isn't cheap, around $1800 per vehcile for the unit and then the tracking costs for moving maps etc.

I have a couple of them in my boat and 4wd etc - and was able to track my vessel all over the estuary at mandurah and out to sea as well.

Can't see why it wouldn't work for the fire brigades controllers with a few exceptions like heavy tree canopy cover obscuring sattelite tracking signals and the aforementioned smoke etc.

Having said all that....

Even "experts" in nav - those trained and qualified like pilots and skippers - have to do HEAPS of practical training in real world situations - to gain whats called "instrument proficiency", i.e. the ability to fly a plane (or navigate a boat) at night in total blackout (new moon) conditions - for pilots inside full cloud cover for ex on instruments alone.

Even then, pilots and skippers sometimes still get "disorientated"....technical speak for fricken lost!

I know it happened to me once entering Balla Balla creek in the Pilbara at night on a new moon night - the entire waterway has no navigation aids - no lights, no marker posts, nothing as a point of reference - your on your own - you, your chart plotter and a pitch black sky.

Even tho I had been in there a LOT of times in various conditions of light and dark, this one occasion - I managed to get inside the creek mouth from the ocean OK, my young fella on the bow with a big torch, had heard in the day prior about a big crock that had moved into the creek - and so instead of guiding me to the mooring and ramp - as we'd discussed, he started scanning around for "crock eyes"....and suddely i became disorientated, even tho i had a chart plotter I was travelling slow and it's updates were a bit slow and next thing Im doing circles, and headed back out to sea instead of up the mooring - it took a good look at the sky (southern cross) to get my bearings again and get my shiate back together...

That out the way we had no further dramas - but pitch black or smoke out conditions are VERY disorientating even for trained pros..

Put that same scenario down to volunteers, who aren't qualified/ trained to navigate, in smoke out conditions in a fire, and I really don't think the "technology solution" is the "magic bullet" solution that many think.

I did do 8 years as a Forester / pro fire fighter here in WA's southwest and largely we didn't have that GPS technology available to us.

We fought some big pine fires and yes we lost equipment (low loader trailer) but luckily no lives at that time...and yes a couple of our crews got caught with wind changes and had their trucks burnt - but all survivied.

Non of them said afterwards that a GPS would have got them out of trouble, more often than not, they got bogged in a creek and the fire caught up to them or couldn't turn around on narrow tracks in steep country to go backl the way they came etc.

I'm not saying such trucks shouldn't have such equipment as a GPS / chart plotter - car navigator call it what you will - I would just be a bit sceptical about the average volunteers ability to use such equipment to any great effect under emergency situations as described.

Theres probably other things they could be doing like using heat refelective sheilds and watersprays etc to survive that relying on a electronic gadget in a panic.

Simple errors like wrong datum for the chart / map can put you off a track in meters on steep narrow track forest country and driving thru impenetrable smoke by GPS sounds like a recipe for collision head on with other firefighting vehicles or personell.

Just some observations from the real world about GPS and what it can / can't do and what operators might / might not be capable of.

They are good but not infallible....lots of professional fire fighters fought a LOT of fires for a lot of years without it....

Yes it'd be handy - but not some magic bullet IMHO.

Even GPS can get you into strife no matter how good you think you are!

A panic situation in a forest fire isn't a good time to start to learn what you don't know about GPS nav IMHO.

How much time and $ do the CFA and volunteers have to invest in becomming expert navigators and when those volunteers leave the organisation - what skills and value of training experience has been lost?

CFA here can'keep their people, they would do better IMHO to focus their energys on keeping the staff they have rather than wishing for gadgets for the truck.

Case in point - my own eldest son was for a long time a volunteer SES & CFA member in our local town.

We have the longest river in the southern hemisphere, in our area (Blackwood) which has flooded in the past cutting people off for days, we have had 4wd tragedys with kids drowned trying to cross the river in flood etc etc

Of course - who gets called out when theres a tragedy?...

Yep the volunteers - to traffic accidents, floods fires drowings fishermen lost off the rocks and so on.

At a traffic accident - mother trapped in her car after a crash, pinned by the legs - out comes "the state of the art jaws of life" - yeah a $2 hacksaw from Bunnings!

Ever sat trying to comfort someone injured while cutting them out of a wreck with a hacksaw for HOURS!

Thats what the authorities think of their volunteers - supply half azzed equipment!

The same SES organisation decided to supply a rescue craft for floods etc. Eldest son is a qualified skipper - so he researches the SES specifications, for rescue craft and gets pics of vesels supplied for up north where creeks flood about once every 10 years...RIB type alloy things with twin donks etc etc - al the safety gear for the operators!

Makes recommendation to HO thats what they need!

What do they get?

A pressed tin punt and outboard from some mate of the guy in charge at HO!

Not fast enough too counter the current of our river in flood, no flotation, not structurally strong enough to stand up to water pressures in a flooded river, meets NON of the SES own specifications for rescue vessels.

Son told them to whack their boat, refused to operate it and resigned as a volunteer in protest and the rest of the SES team joined him - now there NO SES unit it left in that town.

Quite frankly - the quality of professionals we have running our volunteer units who seem to have been able to wheedle themselves into PAID positions, don't have the ablity / skills knowlege or traning to do the job properly, and as a result put the volunteers lives needlessly at risk in many situations thru faulty or innapropriate gear!

Who would be a volunteer in this scenario?

Trust me that the CFA, SES call em whatever you want - have FAR bigger problems than lack of GPS units in their trucks...

Even if they could get GOOD people as volunteers - those with half a brain would leave before some wannabee dipstick in charge gets them killed, thru lack of experience, knowlege or half azzed equipment.

Quite simply the volunteer units of CFA and SES etc couldn't keep good people if they got them because there seems to be a preponderance of half whits with no experience or idea in charge, who for some strange reason seem to make a career out of running the volunteer service and somehow get paid for it!

The inept leaders on the payroll are the reason the volunteers wont stay!

GPS or lack thereof is the last of their REAL problems.

Can you imagine a SES leader teaching the son who is already a qualifed skipper - hence expert/qualified navigator, how to navigate around the bush?

The SES instructor doesn't have his skills or qualifications or experience - and worse hates being corrected by a "kid" in his eyes - yet the SES teacher is barely more than a "scout leader" level of experience in navigation.

Its an insult to the volunteers intelligence to participate with "leaders on the payroll" without the qualifcations or experience to lead a group of cub scouts, trying to teach them life threatening situation survival skills.

Our Volunteer Services have real problems to deal with.

Nuthing wrong with a nice GPS unit if funds allow, but far more important issues to deal with first in the volunteers associataions...IMHO.

These days very few "experts" with real world experience are allowed to "teach" anyone anything!

The darn school teachers have the whole TAFE system constrained such that ONLY a qualified tyeacher can teach anything - even if they have NEVER had to do it in the real world.

Unless you have a teaching degree, you can't teach anyone anything, so a master mariner can't teach recreational skippers tickets - but a school teacher who never sailed more than a bar of soap in bathtub can!

This is why our industry and work forces etc are so screwed for people with "experience".

Experience doesn't count for anything any more - its all about pieces of paper, that in the real world sometimes mean very little.

Time we got back to basics IMHO.

GPS is a nice to have as a backup but should NEVER be your primary source of navigation - the box the GPS comes in will tell you that!

Too many people place too much reliance on technology these days.

Theres a difference between "nice to have" and "must have" equipment at a fire.

GPS falls into the nice to have category, we shouldn't forget that!

Heck I remember a WA based bushtracks website selling routes for 4wders to follow along the southcoast, but because some of his routes were recorded in a different datum than the maps it displays the route against, half the route was in the southern ocean, not on land, when the route was plotted!

My 2c and thensome!

AnswerID: 351183

Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:58

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:58
Hi Flywest

You put some time into that post - and I , and I suspect you, experience some of that stuff even now - I put my effort directly where I think its required and like in this present situation I will simply go to some wrecked tracks and clear some myself while others are discussing it.
I don't volunteer any services these days even to 4wd clubs as despite 40+ years of experience clearing trees with chainsaws I don't qualify to clear trees after some of our dissasters unless I've done 3.6hrs of offical training and most importantly have a document to say so.
Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Member - Chris & Sue (QLD) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 19:59

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 19:59
G'day Flywest,

That sounded like it was coming from both the head and the heart. Well done.

I think you've pointed out what I've long suspected - that bureaucracy and political correctness have triumphed over experience and common sense in this country. I wonder if there's any way we can get back to the latter attributes? A good friend's policy is 'Ignore the morons and do what you know is right', but it doesn't always go down too well with those in positions of authority (AKA 'Little Hitlers'). :-(

Just a small point - "the longest river in the southern hemisphere" is in WA? Not wishing to start an East vs West Coast war, but what ever happened to the Murray at 2,375 kms (1,476 mi), the Cooper at 1420kms or the Warburton at 1400kms?


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Follow Up By: On Patrol & TONI - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 21:44

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 21:44
G'day Flywest
Well put, a long but worthwhile read.

Some years ago I was asked by my employer to attend a course over 6 nights @ 3hour's each on a subject I was considered by my peers to be very very good at, I attended all the same as my employer deemed it nessisary, for me to continue doing my job of 17 years, the teacher was a lad half my age that I had taught myself some years earlier, he was since the author of a manual that became an industry standard, based on what I had taught him. He looked at me in his class and signed my papers as passed with top marks. Go figure???

Just a small point Chris,
the Amazon River is in the southern hemisphere too.
Cheers Colin.
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Follow Up By: Member - Chris & Sue (QLD) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 21:58

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 21:58
Touche, Colin!

Reminder to self: Stop thinking parochially! :-)

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Reply By: Tim - Stratford (VIC) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:23

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:23
G'day Robin,

Some good points raised - and hell of a story of survival - bl00dy lucky!

With all the great technology around maybe the CFA trucks would be better off with a monitored GPS system, similar to the ambos - The comms centre would then be able to identify the truck and its location if the crew couldn't respond or were out of the truck.

Something for thought - hopefully it is all examined in detail during the Royal Commission.

AnswerID: 351187

Follow Up By: Robin Miller - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:40

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 18:40
I expect this will be an outcome Tim, we will be pushing this heavily.

Robin Miller

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Follow Up By: Member - Roscoe ET (QLD) - Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 20:46

Thursday, Feb 26, 2009 at 20:46

GPS is not an issue for Coast Guard or Volunteer Marine Rescue organizations and when you think about it it shouldn't be an issue for any emergency organization volunteer or otherwise.

This technology is an invaluable tool.

Tim, what you say should be a given and not up for debate by any authority under whose umbrella the relevant organization answers to.
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Reply By: Member - Mike DID - Friday, Feb 27, 2009 at 22:45

Friday, Feb 27, 2009 at 22:45
With the latest version of OziCE and its Screen Designer I now have the ideal display for RFS use that NO other GPS seems to have been able to achieve up to now -

Simultaneous display on one page of
- Lat Long in Deg Min.Min
- Grid Reference as 6 digits
- Moving Map Display
- Current Time
AnswerID: 351429

Follow Up By: Jimbo (WA) - Sunday, Mar 01, 2009 at 13:42

Sunday, Mar 01, 2009 at 13:42

That would be a great page to have as the "main page".

I, for one, would like to use it if you would care to share it.

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Follow Up By: Member - Mike DID - Sunday, Mar 01, 2009 at 16:10

Sunday, Mar 01, 2009 at 16:10

I've emailed the .par1 file to you.

It will only work in the latest version of OziCE and you may need to do some editing on it if your PDA uses something other than a 240w x 320h display.

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Follow Up By: Jimbo (WA) - Sunday, Mar 01, 2009 at 16:21

Sunday, Mar 01, 2009 at 16:21

thanks for that - I'm going to play with it right now and check it out.

Thanks again,

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