What 3 Words

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Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) want to encourage the public to use what3words to report an incident for more accurate dispatching of fire engines.

The what3words app is downloadable for free and provides an exact location – with every 3m squared having its own unique code of a trio of words. The three words remain the same and every area in the whole world is accounted for!

The genius app has been found to be really beneficial for the emergency services and was introduced at North West Fire Control (NWFC) in August 2019. NWFC are the call handlers who take emergency calls and mobilise fire engines to incidents across Lancashire and the North West. If a caller rings and is unsure of their location the team at NWFC will ask them to download the app, if they haven’t already, and report the three words designated to their location. They are then able to dispatch help to their exact location by passing the three words on to fire crews. Street addresses or postcodes are not always precise locations whereas the what3words app narrows the location down to 3m sq. Alternatively people can call to give their location using what3words to say that is where they can see a fire if they don’t know the location of the fire themselves. It is important that people speak clearly when talking to our NWFC colleagues and even spell the words out as dialect and background noise could cause confusion giving words over the phone for example ‘soul’ and ‘sole’ sound the same but could give two completely different location reference points.

Station Manager of Response and Emergency Planning, Mark Warwick, said; “The What3words app is still a relatively new platform for reporting emergencies but one with so much potential. We’ve had instances where someone rang 999 but didn’t know their whereabouts but by giving NWFC the what3words we were able to send two fire engines. With all the recent wildfires and the huge areas crews would potentially have to cover by foot, to determine the area of fire, the what3words app has been invaluable. I’d encourage everyone to download the app, it’s free, can be used in lots of different scenarios and can get crews dispatched to an accurate location in an emergency.”

The app has been found to be really helpful especially at incidents that involve wide open spaces like wildfires or water rescues. In such incidences crews may have to go looking for the source of a fire/rescue, wasting valuable time, but by using the app they can go to the exact location. Firefighters are also trained in rope rescue and sometimes have to rescue people from obscure or more remote locations so having a specific location in order to find someone is extremely useful.

Crew Manager, Kieron Dobson from St Anne’s Fire Station, said; “If we were called to a job the turnout sheet would often say ‘fire in the open on the sand dunes’ and considering the dunes cover a stretch of about 5.5km this doesn’t narrow it down to where the incident may be. If someone made the call from the beach/waterside vs the road, where landmarks and buildings are able to provide a reference point, it makes it very hard for us to find the site of the fire, especially where there are lots of dips and hollows in the dunes. The what3words app can tell us precisely where we need to go and could be very beneficial.”

The app is also useful for firefighters passing on information to other firefighters who may be called to provide further assistance. In major incidents like wildfires the crew responding first may know the area well but when they require further resources and fire engines attend from further afield using the what3words app can pinpoint crews to where they need to go. This was demonstrated recently at the Winter Hill incident at the end of May 2020. The Chorley crew who arrived at the scene first sent the three words via NWFC so their colleagues knew where to go. It has also proven to be useful for partner working as firefighters share their location at incidents to partners such as Lancashire Constabulary, North West Ambulance Service and vice versa.

And not only for emergencies is this app helpful. The app boasts being used for organising meet ups and gatherings with family and friends, finding one another at a busy event for example a festival and promoting business locations.

It is important to note however that people should not rely on the what3words app or mobile devices for navigation purposes due to battery life, phone signal etc and LFRS only advocate its benefit for incident reporting.

Operations Director of Mountain Rescue England and Wales, Mike Margeson, said: “What3words is one of a number of GPS location methods available for use with a smartphone, all of which might be of assistance but none of which should be relied upon, particularly in the mountain environment. We would always encourage hillgoers to use the traditional navigational tools of map and compass.’