This is a reprint of another article that former Supv. Dispatcher Barry Daskal and I co-wrote for the defunct periodical Fire & Rescue News.

It never fails. As a dispatcher when you're introduced to a fire fighter for the first time, you invariably get one of two reactions: "Hey, what's your number? I'll listen for you." or, "Why do we relocate so much?" Today we will address the latter.

In order to provide ample fire protection when companies are operating, or are going to be out of service for long periods of time, relocations must be made. This is necessary to reduce the amount of time it takes for a company to arrive at the scene of an alarm. For example: The entire 1st alarm assignment for 1 World Trade Center is operating (Engs. 10, 6, 7; Lads 10, 1) Another alarm is received in the vicinity. The nearest available units would be those assigned on the second alarm. Since companies have to come from a greater distance, a greater response time will result.

To reduce the response time, companies from other parts of the borough (or city) are relocated into the vacant firehouses. The Computer Assisted Dispatch System (CADS) has been programmed to alert dispatchers when a "response neighborhood" (RN) opens up. An RN is opened when 2 companies of the same type, who run 1st and 2nd due on more than 7 boxes, are seriously unavailable. (Seriously unavailable means they will not be able to respond to any alarms for over 30 minutes for whatever reason.) Example: E309 is at the Fire Academy for training. E323 is working at an all hands in Canarsie. Since E309 & E323 run 1st and 2nd due in most of Flatlands and Old Mill Basin, the RN is now uncovered.

In the days before CADS, relocations were determined by alarm assignment cards. Every card in addition to listing the units assigned on the 1st through 5th alarms, also had a listing of who was to relocate, and to where when a greater alarm was transmitted. Alarm cards today still list these "static" relocations, but they are rarely used if at all.

Today there are 2 methods of selecting relocators. The CADS, when asked, will recommend units for relocation. It will pick the closest available units. Example: All hands are operating at Brooklyn box 4106, E. 48 St. and Ave. N. The alarm card is as follows (engines shown only):

1st alarm309323321255
2nd alarm276310254248
3rd alarm283281246330
4th alarm250249240253
5th alarm282234247290

The CADS now shows us the following RN's:


Assuming all other units in the borough are available CADS may recommend 227, 231, 233, 234, 245, 246, 249, 276, 254, 283, 310, or 330. Several of these choices would be unacceptable because they would be assigned on the second or subsequent alarms, or may run in with units that do. This would create a larger uncovered area.

CADS also can't take into consideration weather, traffic conditions, and a myriad of other factors that humans can. The CADS will recommend E283 for relocation to E309 since E283 doesn't run with anyone on the 1st alarm whereas everyone on the 2nd alarm does.

Most dispatchers make their own decisions. With engine companies, the only guideline is not to use a company that is not allowed to relocate; such as the satellite associated engines. With ladders, there's more to consider. Certain types of trucks can't fit into some houses designed for other types of trucks. Some dispatchers relocate like units; tiller to tiller, tower to tower, etc. But when fire activity is high and picking become difficult, anything goes. Most dispatchers have their own systems for keeping track of who has relocated so as not to use them again in the same tour. We try also to accomodate units who volunteer for relocation.