First Responder Call-In Using Google Voice


Firefighters and firehouses are not as glamorous as your kindergarten self would lead you to believe. Most firefighters in the US are volunteers, and most firefighters don’t live in the firehouse. Instead of hanging out at the fire house all the time, they use a call-in system that displays a list on a web page saying, ‘Joe is coming to the fire house’ or ‘Jack will meet you at the scene’. It’s highly efficient given the budgets they’re working with, but as [Andy] discovered, this same system can be replicated with Google Voice.

The system relies on a Google Voice account that’s set to have all calls go straight to voicemail. The missed call sends off a voicemail notification to the Gmail inbox, effectively turning the Gmail inbox into a call-in system for free.

In testing, [Andy] noticed the Gmail inbox doesn’t quite refresh fast enough for his purposes, so he whipped up a simple webpage with a little bit of PHP to parse the emails and display everything automatically. The idea being that this webpage could just be displayed on a monitor in the station, waiting for the next call.

Another improvement [Andy] points out could be setting up several numbers, each for different status codes. It’s an astonishing simple system, and now something that can be replicated for free.

12 thoughts on “First Responder Call-In Using Google Voice

    1. No. Hangouts ties their voice, chat and email systems together. They claimed to have phased out “Google Talk” with Hangouts but I don’t get it. Talk with a standalone client for the services, which still works. Hangouts is a damn web page that suffers the same problems as what’s mentioned in this page, slow refresh times.

  1. Nice! I like firefighters that tinker with tech to improve what they do. The site mentions using a php to make a self-refreshing page. I suspect the same could be done using the other services available in a regular google account, specifically scripts in spreadsheets. To increase refresh time on a standalone computer that controls the in station display you could simply let a tiny script send F5 (refresh) to the browser window every two seconds or so.

    BTW I think stuff like this would be great for Hackaday to do community project specials on a couple of times a year. Get in contact with people like firefighters, community organizers, librarians, teachers etcetera who look for a tech enhancement to some specific process or situation where the existing tech is hard to modify or very expensive and then run a Hackaday community project where we all can chip in with ideas, prototypes and ultimately solutions.

    1. FireFox already has a built in page reload (unless it is a function of TabsMixPlus). You can set it down to 10sec refresh. I use it all the time when I am waiting for a reply on a hosting service’s support ticket page.

      1. Just to correct myself, the reload tab “custom” box is a dropdown with times down to 10 seconds, but I figured out you can type into that box as well and set it at anything you want.

  2. I did something similar on a project a few years ago. Instead of relying on the script to check your gmail account. You can forward the emails to an address hosted on the webserver that pipes incoming emails to a php script. That way there is minimum delay for sending text commands.

    Since most people have smart phones nowadays, it may be worth creating a simple mobile webapp instead of using gvoice.

  3. We used a similar system for tech support for an independent cable ISP(don’t see those much, eh). Worked like a charm and it kept our phones from being overwhelmed. We later moved to Asterisk and that was the biggest mistake ever.

    1. oh, I should add that it wasn’t because it was Asterisk but because the admin didn’t know how to logout all agents so one day when I logged in late I discovered someone had been waiting for over an hour instead of being directed to voicemail.

  4. I’ve been using GV daily since it was in beta, but I must warn that sometimes your messages and calls can blackhole. Take last week, all messages I sent and all messages anyone sent me were delayed nearly 3 hours. At the same time messages sent/received with the phone’s native SMS worked instantly. As such, I’d caution that GV is still not very dependable after five years in the wild.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.