Fleet Management Refresh Eliminates Inefficiencies, Expands Functionality

A new real-time GPS solution has helped this fire protection company reduce speeding and idling, while cutting the cost of its tracking system in half.

For a commercial building owner, sprinklers and fire alarms are critical systems. The consequences of broken equipment can be dire, so when there is a problem, customers want to know that a service technician will arrive quickly.

Baltimore-based Fireline Corp. has been in business since 1947, providing a variety of fire protection services including engineering and design, installation, inspection and testing, and service and repair of fire alarm, fire suppression, and sprinkler systems. The company employees 100 service technicians who spend the bulk of their day on the road, traveling between customer locations.

Ensuring the techs arrive at jobs in a timely manner isn’t Fireline’s only objective, though. Driving behavior has always been a key concern for Fireline, both because the technicians and the vehicles represent the company in public and because speeding and hard braking cost the company money — erratic, risky driving can lead to increased maintenance and fuel expenses, in addition to costly insurance claims and speeding tickets.

When Bill Gibb, materials resource manager at Fireline, took over fleet management at the company several years ago, upgrading Fireline’s ability to track its vehicles was one of his top priorities. Up to that point, the company had used a GPS solution that provided location updates every four minutes. “That might not seem like long, but a lot can happen in four minutes on the highway,” Gibb says. “I wanted something more proactive so we could get updates to us as soon as possible.”

Seeking Fleet Management That Goes Beyond The Basics
The previous solution provided location and vehicle speed information, but that was it. While Gibb was looking for a new solution, GPS provider TomTom Telematics approached the company and offered its fleet management system. According to Gibb, the system not only provided greater, more up-to-the-minute visibility, it did so at a much lower cost. “Once I saw what it could do, I talked to the owner about it,” Gibb says. “The previous solution was very expensive, and we were paying a monthly fee, plus a fee for a phone connection. It was twice what we’re paying now with the new solution.”

Fireline installed the TomTom LINK 300 device on its 100-vehicle fleet. The company deployed the new units as the contracts on the older system expired. The new units are mounted on the dash inside the cab of the trucks.

The TomTom device registers vehicle position, trip information, standstill times, mileage, and driving behavior. Fireline managers can access the data via the TomTom WEBFLEET online portal. The solution has provided real-time visibility of the fleet, along with up-to-date maps and live traffic updates. “The traffic updates are really helpful. I can let our guys know if there is a backup on the beltway,” Gibb says.

Real-Time Visibility Helps Reduce Speeding, Idling
Fireline uses the data from the GPS system to proactively work with drivers to correct poor driving behaviors. Each day, drivers (and managers) receive a report showing where they were the previous day. Once per week the managers get an excessive speed report, and the owner of the company receives an excessive speed and event report that includes hard braking or hard steering events. “That indicates extra wear on the vehicles that we don’t need,” Gibb says. “We track how many miles the vehicles have traveled for maintenance, and if they come in early, we look at the driving record. We can tell the driver, ‘We have to do this maintenance early because of the way you are driving the truck.’”

Fireline was also able to use the solution to reduce idle time. By working with drivers, the company reports that the average idle time is now less than 30 minutes per vehicle, per day across the company, which Gibb feels is right on target. “There are times they have to let the vehicles idle because of the weather or because of the job,” Gibb says. “We have seen a reduction, but when the weather is very hot or very cold, they have to idle — it’ll never be eliminated completely.”

The service department manager can easily see where each vehicle is in the case of an emergency call. In the past, the manager would have had to call the technicians on the phone to check their location. “She can look on a map and see who is closest to the call,” Gibb says. “We’re in the fire protection business, so when people are calling with a broken sprinkler head, they want you there now. This helps us get there faster.”

With a monitoring solution in place, driver behaviors have improved. That, in turn, has helped improve the company’s image, Gibb says. Every one of Fireline’s trucks is marked with an 800 number for other motorists to use when the vehicles aren’t being operated safely. According to Gibb, the company used to receive several complaints per month about its drivers. With the GPS solution in place, those calls have almost stopped completely.

The solution has also reduced theft. “There have been times when a driver has bought gas for their personal vehicle and claimed they put it in the Fireline vehicle,” Gibb says. “We can show them where the Fireline truck was when they used the gas card. We terminated one employee who was abusing the gas card because we could track what he was doing.”

The drivers carry smartphones and laptops that they use to complete inspection documents and reports, but Gibb says the company has no current plans to integrate the GPS solution with a mobile dispatch solution. “Our game plan is to stay with what we’re doing and keep an eye on the technology to see what’s coming down the road,” Gibb says. “Being able to track our speeding and driving and getting real-time data has improved how we operate.”